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Session 35

The Experiment is a collection of short series that are a little different to our usual programmes - but still help you improve your English.

Our seventh series, What they really mean shows how misunderstandings can be caused by common ways we use language. Each episode shows you how to avoid these misunderstandings.

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

What they really mean: Disguised requests

Have you got a long journey home?

Olivia's had a house party. It's late at night and now she just wants everyone to leave so she can go to bed. She uses disguised requests to let Mark know she wants him to leave. But he doesn't realise.

Disguised requests are questions people ask to gently suggest that another person should do something. Olivia says "Is it 10 o'clock?" but what she means is, "go home."

Watch the video to find out how to identify disguised requests.

 

Watch the video and complete the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

Olivia
Is it 10 o'clock already?

Claire
Is Olivia really asking about the time? After all, she did just check her watch.

Mark
This is a great party, I love telling my stories, did I tell you about my last camping holiday?

Olivia
No, I don't think you did… Is it 10 o'clock already?

Mark
Well, yes, it is… anyway, so you wanted to hear about my camping trip….

Olivia
Have you got a long journey home?

Mark
No, you've been there – it's not far. It won’t take me long to get home … anyway, we were staying in these tents…

Olivia
When were you thinking of leaving?

Mark
Leaving? Well, I'm going to call a taxi… so – I can stay a while yet. …anyway as I was saying, we were staying in these tents…

Olivia
Can you not take a hint? I need you to go home now. I'm tired… and I could not care less about your camping holiday!

Mark
Oh, um… Alright I'll be leaving then….

Mark
I'm confused… why was Olivia so angry?

Claire
Well, the thing is you ignored all of her hints.

Mark
Hints?

Claire
The questions she was asking you. You weren't supposed to answer them.

Mark
No?

Claire
Olivia wasn't asking these questions to get information, she was asking them to highlight something – they were disguised requests. She asked about the time, his journey and the time that he planned to leave. He was supposed to think about these things, and realise that it was quite late, and that maybe she might want to go to sleep. This is less direct and considered more polite that just saying "Can you leave? I want to go to sleep". We can use questions like this in lots of different situations – and you'll see some more examples at the end of the programme.

Mark
So what should I do with these questions?

Claire
Answer the questions, but then demonstrate that you have understood the hint.

Mark
So, did I tell you about my last camping holiday.

Olivia
No, I don't think you did… is it 10 o'clock already?

Mark
Oh it is. Yes, it is getting a bit late?

Olivia
Yes, have you got a long journey home?

Mark
Well, it's not too far – but I probably should be getting home soon.

Olivia
And when were you thinking of leaving?

Mark
Soon… actually, I'll call a cab now.

Olivia
Thanks for coming. It was lovely to see you.

Olivia
Is there any coffee in that pot?

Mark
Is it cold in here?

Olivia
Is there anything else on?

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Did you like that? Why not try these?

What they really mean Episode 4 English at Work - 22 - Language for making a polite request Lower Intermediate indirect questions cover

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What are disguised requests?
Disguised requests are when people use a question indirectly to highlight something that they want to happen.

How do people make disguised requests? 
They usually ask a question that is related to what they want to happen, but without asking directly.

Why do people make disguised requests?
They are considered more polite than asking directly for something to happen.

Examples

'Is there any coffee in that pot.' This can mean: 'Can you get me some coffee?' 
'Is it cold in here.' This can mean: 'Can you shut the door?'
'Is there anything else on.' This can mean: 'Can you change the channel?'

To do

Try our quiz to see how well you've learned today's language.

Disguised requests

4 Questions

Choose the correct answers.

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Downloads

You can download a transcript of this episode here.

End of Session 35

Here are all of our Experiment series videos