Grammar Reference

Masterclass: Being Polite: How to soften your English


In English, politeness is considered to be very important. While it is ok to be direct in informal situations or with friends, it is very important not to come across as rude in formal situations or with strangers.

Requests, suggestions and questions: 

We soften requests, and suggestions and questions by using past forms, continuous forms or both.

Direct: ‘Pick me up on your way to the party this evening!’
More polite: ‘was wondering if you could give me a lift later.’ 

We can also make requests softer by using a negative question with a question tag
 ‘You couldn’t give me a lift later, could you?’ or ‘don’t suppose you could pick me up tonight, could you?

Giving Opinions:

We use verbs like reckon, guess, feel to make your opinions less direct. You can also use vague expressions like ‘sort of’, ‘kind of’, ‘a little bit’.

Direct: 'You're too young to get married!'
More polite: 'I reckon you're a little young to be getting married!

It also helps if you make it into a question
Aren’t you kind of young to be getting married?

Discussing Problems:

We introduce problems with verbs like seem and appear to soften them.

Direct: ‘You've made a mistake in this report!’
More polite: ‘You seem to have made a mistake here.’

You can also use these to introduce your own problems
seem to have lost those reports you wanted’.

Saying No!

We find it really hard to say no! So instead we use tentative language to soften it.

Direct: ‘No, I'm not coming to your party this evening.’
More polite: ‘I’m not sure I'll be able to make it to your party this evening…’