How to Ask for Something in English

When you want something, there are many ways to ask for something in English. The important thing you need to consider when choosing your phrase is the level of politeness that is required. You want to choose the right level of politeness for the situation.

Ordering in a Restaurant

When ordering in a restaurant, you want to strike the right of politeness. You don’t want to act in a way that is over-the-top, too formal, for the restaurant you’re in.

Give me a salad – this is like an order. It would be rude to say this.

I’ll grab a shake – it’s American English to use the verb ‘grab’. It means to take something quickly and it is informal. It is increasingly used in the UK.

I’ll have the special – this is not a traditional phrase in British English but we are starting to use it more because it is more casual than saying ‘could I please…’ or ‘may I please…’

Could I please have the boiled egg – this is polite language but it may be too polite for most restaurant situations. Restaurants are much more relaxed places these days and you don’t need to use extra polite language.

I’d like the cabbage soup – this is a common phrase when ordering. This one is neutral. It’s not overly polite and it’s not casual either.

Asking Someone to Pass you Something

Pass me that – this is like an order and it’s rude to talk to someone this way, unless they are a close family member or friend. You can also speak directly like this in emergency situations.

Can you pass it to me? – ‘Can’ is preferred in American English. ‘Could’ is considered to be more polite in English. It seems that ‘can’ is being used more and more by British English people.

Would you mind passing my bag? – this is a polite way to make a request. This phrase is indirect. When something is indirect it means that the thing you want to happen is hidden with extra polite words.

Would it be okay if you passed my bag? – the more words there are in a phrase, the more indirect and polite the phrase comes. To say this phrase sounds as if you are hesitant and unsure of yourself.

If it’s not too much trouble, could you pass the book to me please? – this phrase is excessive if you are asking for a small favour. It is affected, which means it seems that you are trying too hard to seem posh and polite.

Would you be so kind as to pass me my bag? – this is a posh and old-fashioned phrase to ask for something in British English. This phrase is used by older people.