Asking for things in English doesn’t need to be stressful. Just remember some key phrases, and you’ll be able to deal with most situations smoothly and confidently!
Asking clerks or at help desks
(Hello.) Can / Could I have ….. please? (Falling intonation)
(Good morning.) Can / Could you give / get me ….. please?
(Good evening.) A table for two, please.
Interrupting people to ask them for something
…. Do you know if…?
…. Do you have…?
…. Do you accept …. (credit cards)?
…. Is this the right way for…. (the Post Office)?
…. Could you tell me if …. (there’s a Post Office near here)?
In more formal situations
…. Would you mind …. (keeping an eye on my luggage?)
…. I wonder if you could …. (move your suitcase a little.)
Responding to questions
You ask for something, then the person you have asked needs more information. He or she asks you a question. If you haven’t expected this, you can “play for time” – say something to give you time to think. Say something like “Oh”, “Ah”, “Um”, or “Er” to give you a second or two to formulate an answer. Remember, complete silence makes the other person feel uneasy!
You: “Two tickets to Glasgow, please.”
Clerk: “Single or return?”
You: “Um, return please. We’re coming back tomorrow.”
(You are at the bureau de change)
Clerk: How would you like your money?
You: Oh, er, three tens and a five, please.
You: “Hello. Can I have a leaflet about London museums, please.”
Clerk: “Sure. Anything else?”
You: “Um, do you have any information about musicals?”
When you ask someone for something, or you ask them to do something for you, it is essential to be as polite as possible. Here are some ways that you can be polite.
A “hello” and a smile go a long way! Say “hello” at the beginning of your request.
“Hello. (I’d like) a travel card, please.”
In more formal situations, you can say “Good morning”, “Good afternoon” or “Good evening”. (Remember, we only say “Good night” if we’re saying “Good bye” at the end of the day.)
“Good evening. We’ve booked a table for four.”
Remember “please” and “thank you”
“Please” normally goes at the end of the sentence:
“Two tickets please.”
“Can you give me directions to Oxford Street, please.”
Say “thank you” after you have received something:
“Here’s your change.”
You can use “Yes, please” or “No, thank you” in response to a question:
“Would you like salad with your pizza?”
“Yes, please” or “No, thank you.”
Say “excuse me”
If you ask someone who is doing something else, remember to say “excuse me”:
“Excuse me, do yo have this dress in a smaller size?” (In a shop)
“Excuse me, do you know where the nearest bank is?” (On the street)
Structure of an example conversation
1. Clerk greets you
(Good morning.) How can I help you?
What can I do for you?
2. You ask for something
Hello. I’d like some information about…
Can I have….
Three stamps for Europe, please.
3. Clerk asks you a question
Single or return?
Air-mail or surface mail?
4. You answer
Oh, er, single thanks.
Um, let me see. Air-mail please.
5. Clerk asks you if you need anything else
Will that be all?
(Is there) anything else?
6. You answer
Ah, actually I’d also like…
No, that’s it thanks / thank you.
See also “Making requests” in the Speaking section.