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Home Expressions Speaking Speaking Exercise Imperative Sentences and Polite Requests in English

March 23, 2021

Imperative Sentences and Polite Requests in English

Imperative Sentences and Polite Requests
W
e make a request, or give an instruction or an order when we are asking for something to be given or done, especially as a favor or courtesy. We make and receive requests, orders, or instructions in our daily life, whether we are at home, at school, at work, or even at public places.

Therefore, it is essential to understand how to make requests, commands, or instructions, and how to respond to them appropriately. The ability in using polite forms in making requests and responding appropriately plays a very important role in presenting ourself in daily interactions. When we are polite, we appear gracious, agreeable, acceptable, and pleasant.

I. IMPERATIVE SENTENCES
The imperatives or imperative sentences are used for giving orders and instructions, making suggestions, and encouraging people to do things. We can make imperative sentences by using exactly the same form as the infinitive without to, e.g. open, close, clean, do, write, read, etc.. Look at the underlined verbs in the example sentences below:
  • Fill out this form.
  • Open the windows.
  • Sleep well.
Remember the following important points when making an imperative sentence.
  1. A subject can be used for making it clear who is being spoken to, with no change in verbs (infinitives), e.g.:
    • Jim come here.
    • Somebody open the door!
    • You get out! ("You" before an imperative usually suggests anger)
  2. To make it more polite and emphatic, "Do" can be used before the infinitive, e.g.
    • Do sit down.
    • Do forgive me.
    • Do be quiet.
  3. Negative imperatives, as in prohibitions or warnings, are constructed with "do not" or "don’t", e.g.
    • Don’t be noisy.
    • Don’t blame me.
    • Do not lean out of the window.
  4. "Always" and "never" can be used before imperatives, e.g.
    • Always remember to smile.
    • Never be late to class.
    • Always make sure the PC is off before leaving.
  5. Passive imperatives can be constructed with "get" and "be", e.g.
    • Get vaccinated as soon as you can.
    • Get dressed quickly.
    • Please be advised that your tax has been overdue.
  6. "Please" makes the imperatives sound more polite, e.g.
    • Please don't tell her about it.
    • Please turn the music down.
    • Please make sure the PC is off before leaving.
II. POLITE REQUESTS
Polite requests can be constructed using modals, e.g. can, could, will, would, and sound more polite and softer than commands. To make requests sound even more polite, "please" can be used at the end of the sentence. Look at the following structure:
Could you + Infinitive (Verb 1) (please)?
Would you + Infinitive (Verb 1) (please)?
Can you + Infinitive (Verb 1) (please)?
Will you + Infinitive (Verb 1) (please)?
Would you mind + Present Participle (Verb-ing)?
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Look at the following examples:
  • Can you turn down the TV?
  • Could you leave the door open, please?
  • Will you send the email as soon as possible, please?
  • Would you keep the bedroom clean?
  • Would you mind washing the car after using it?
  • Would you mind not closing the door?
  • Note when making a request:
    1. "Can / Could / Will / Would you" is always followed by the infinitive (Verb 1), e.g.:
      • Can you come here, please?
      • Could you stay where you are?
      • Will you tell him to come?
    2. "Could / Would you ...?" and "Would you mind ...?" makes the request sound more polite and formal than "Can / Will you ...?", e.g.:
      • Would you open the door, please?
      • Would you write your name here, please?
      • Could you sign here, please?
    3. "Would you mind" is always followed by a gerund / noun (Verb-ing), e.g.
      • Would you mind turning the music down?
      • Would you mind taking care of my pet?
      • Would you mind telling her about it?
    4. "Please" makes our requests sound more polite, e.g.
      • Would you close the door, please?
      • Could you write your name here, please?
      • Will you not lean out of the window, please?
    "Would you mind ..." is different from "Would you like ...?"
    Learn more about "Would you like ...?" HERE
    III. ACCEPTING A REQUEST
    Generally, we can agree to a polite request by giving positive invitations such as "Yes, certainly" or "Sure, no problem." However, there is a difference in meaning between requests using "Can/Could/Will/Would you ...?" and those using "Would you mind ...?". Therefore, the responses will be discussed separately.
    1. Accepting a request with "Will / Would / Can / Could you ...?"
      We can accept "Will / Would / Can / Could you ...?" requests by using positive invitations such as:
      • OK. I’ll do that
      • All right.
      • Oh, sure. I’d be glad to.
      • Sure ! No problem.
    2. Accepting a request with "Would you mind ...?"
      Accepting to "Would you mind ...?" requests with positive invitations may cause confusion as people may assume that you would mind and do not want to do it, unless we can clearly give our assent to the request by using positive body language, such as smiling agreeably. However, we can avoid confusion by using the following expressions:
      • No, not at all.
      • No, I don't mind at all.
      • No problem, go ahead.
      • No, please be my guest.
    IV. DECLINING A REQUEST
    1. Declining a request with "Will / Would / Can / Could you ...?"
      We can decline "Will / Would / Can / Could you ...?" requests politely by saying sorry and an excuse, or maybe an alternative. Here are some examples:
      • I’m sorry, I’m still busy.
      • Oh, sorry. I can’t do it right now. Maybe later.
      • Sorry, I wish I could. I have to ...(do something else)....
      • I'm sorry, I still don't have time.
    2. Declining a request with "Would you mind ...?"
      Declining "Would you mind ...?" requests should be done politely in order to avoid offence. It is better to provide a clear reason why the request cannot be fulfilled, and whenever possible, use positive body language, such as smiling agreeably. Here are some useful expressions:
      • Yes, certainly. ...(give an excuse / reason)....
      • Well, I have to ...(do something else)....
      • I'm sorry, ...(give an excuse / reason)....
    EXERCISE
    1. Change the following imperatives into polite requests using "Can/Could/Will/Would you ... (please)?". Number 1 has been done as an example.
      1. Open the door!
        Would you open the door, please?
      2. Pass me the sugar.
        ....
      3. Ask him in, please.
        ....
      4. Be quiet, please.
        ....
      5. Do me a favor, please.
        ....
      6. Listen to me.
        ....
    2. Change the following imperatives into polite requests using "Would you mind ...?". Number 1 has been done as an example.
      1. Wait a moment.
        Would you mind waiting a moment, please?
      2. Close the windows.
        ....
      3. Take off your hat.
        ....
      4. Help me, please.
        ....
      5. Turn off the music.
        ....
      6. Speak more slowly, please.
        ....
    More exercises? Read "Offering and Asking for a Favor or Help" HERE
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