English In The Real World

How To be Polite in English

Does it seem like the things you say often cause offense? Are you having trouble getting people to respond to your requests? If so, maybe people are percieving that your English isn’t polite. Learn how to avoid being rude with this great guide!

Being polite in English

Can you pass me…? vs Give me…

People do not like being told what to do, so it’s sometimes difficult to get what you want without causing frustration. Replace phrases that sound like commands, such as “Give me the newspaper”, with a request like “Can you pass me the newspaper?”

Could you give me five minutes? vs Go away

You’re really busy at work, but your coworker needs your help… When you’re busy and can’t attend to anything else, just saying “Go away” is definitely not appropriate. Instead, keep everyone happy by using the phrase “Could you give me five minutes?”

Excuse me. vs Move

Telling someone to “Move out of the way” is extremely rude and is likely going to get you a very negative reaction. The next time someone is in your way, saying “Excuse me” will get the result you want without causing offense!

I’m afraid I can’t. vs No.

It can often be difficult to decline an invitation from a friend. Simply saying “No” would be considered impolite. The next time you have to refuse an invitation, avoid offense by saying, “I’m afraid I can’t.”

I would like… vs I want…

It’s often considered rude to request something using the words, “I want”. Instead of, “I want a cup of coffee”, try telling a waiter, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please”. You’ll get your coffee and a smile, too!

Would you mind…? vs Stop it!

Someone doing something you don’t like, and perhaps being rude? Would you like them to stop? To get the desired result, rather than shouting “Stop talking on your phone in the cinema!”, ask them politely by saying, “Would you mind not using your phone in the cinema, please?”

Can you hold, please? vs Wait.

Choosing the correct level of politeness on the telephone can mean the difference between a constructive conversation and no conversation at all. If a caller asks to speak with someone else, don’t say, “Wait”. Instead, politely ask, “Can you hold, please?”


Basic tips to remember when speaking politely in English

When communicating in English, or any language for that matter, it’s important to be polite. Here are a few basic tips and words to remember when speaking politely in English.


Male: ‘Mr.‘ (or ‘Mister’)

This is used when you know the person’s name, but they are older than you and you want to be respectful. Perhaps it’s your girlfriend’s father or your father’s friends. You would say ‘Mister’ and then their last name, so for example: “Mr. Brown”. If you don’t know their name you can say ‘Sir’.

Female: ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Ms.’

‘Mrs.’ – as in “Mrs. Brown” – is only used to address a married woman, and even then it might not be appropriate as nowadays many women choose not to change their title when they get married. Sticking to the more general ‘Ms.’ may be a safer option to use.


When speaking in English we have many ways to say things, but some are more polite and formal than others. For example:

“Good morning/afternoon/ evening”


“Have a nice day”

These are all ways to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in the workplace or a more formal situation.

Minding your manners

Always remember to mind your manners! ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way when we speak to each other.

How would you speak to your boss? Your partner’s parents? Your best friend? Your co-workers? Your new doctor? Try your best to speak politely no matter where you are in the world. It’s just a nice thing to do.

Wil is a writer, teacher, learning technologist and keen language learner. He’s taught English in classrooms and online for nearly 10 years, trained teachers in using classroom and web technology, and written e-learning materials for several major websites. He speaks four languages and is currently looking for another one to start learning.


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