requests, orders, and instructions

requests, orders, and instructions
When you make a request, you ask someone for something or ask them to do something. If you have authority over someone or know them well, you give them an order or an instruction, that is you tell them to do something rather than asking them to do something. You can also give someone instructions on how to do something or what to do in a particular situation.
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For information on how to request permission to do something, see entry at ↑ Permission.
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Information on how to reply to a request or order is given at the end of this entry.
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asking for something
The simplest way to ask for something is to say `Can I have...?' (You use `we' instead of `I' if you are speaking on behalf of a group.) You can add `please' in order to be more polite.

Can I have a light?

Can I have some tomatoes?

Can I have my hat back, please?

Can we have something to wipe our hands on, please?

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It is more polite to use `could'.

Could I have another cup of coffee?

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People used to be taught that, when asking for something, it was correct to use `may' rather than `can', and `might' rather than `could'. However, `can' and `could' are now generally used. Requests with `may' sound very polite and formal, and requests with `might' sound old-fashioned.

May we have something to eat?

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You use `can't' or `couldn't' instead of `can' or `could' to make a request sound more persuasive, if you think you may not get what you are asking for.

Can't we have some music?

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You can use `Have you got...?', or `You haven't got...' and a question tag, to ask for something in an informal, indirect way.

Have you got a piece of paper or something I could write it on?

Have you got a match?

You haven't got that 20 pence, have you?

Oh hell, I've completely finished off this handkerchief. You haven't got a Kleenex or anything, have you?

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An indirect way of asking for something you think you might not get is to say `Any chance of...?' This is very informal and casual.

Any chance of a bit more cash in the New Year?

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asking as a customer
If you want to ask for something in a shop, bar, café, or hotel, you can simply use a noun group followed by `please'.

A packet of crisps, please.

Scotch and water, please.

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You can also say `I'd like...'.

As I'm here, doctor, I'd like a prescription for some aspirins.

I'd like a room, please. For one night.

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If you are not sure whether a particular thing is available, you say `Have you got...?'

Have you got any brochures on Holland?

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When you are in a restaurant or bar, you can say `I'll have...'. You can also say this when you are offered something to eat or drink in someone's house.

The waitress brought their drinks and said, `Ready?' `Yes,' said Ellen. `I'll have the shrimp cocktail and the chicken.'

`Well, here at last, Mr Adamson! Now what'll you have?' —-`I'll have a glass of beer, thanks, Mr Crike.'

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You can also say `I'd like...'.

I'd like some tea.

I think I'd like some lemonade.

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asking someone to do something
You can ask someone to do something by saying `Could you...?' or `Would you...?' This is fairly polite. You can add `please' to be more polite.

Could you just switch the projector on behind you?

Could you make out our bill, please?

Could you tell me, please, what time the flight arrives?

Would you tell her that Adrian phoned?

Would you take the call for him, please?

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You can make a request even more polite by adding `perhaps' or `possibly' after `Could you'.

Morris, could you possibly take me to the railroad station on your way to work this morning?

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If you want to be very polite, you can say `Do you think you could...?' or `I wonder if you could...?'

Do you think you could help me?

I wonder if you could look after my cat for me while I'm away?

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You can also use `Would you mind...?' and an `-ing' form.

Would you mind doing the washing up?

Would you mind waiting a moment?

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In formal letters and speech, you use very polite expressions such as `I would be grateful if...', `I would appreciate it if...', or `Would you kindly...'.

I would be grateful if you could let me know.

I would appreciate it if you could do anything to bring all that happened into the open.

Would you kindly call to see us next Tuesday at eleven o'clock?

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Note that these very polite expressions are in fact sometimes used as indirect ways of telling someone to do something.
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In informal situations, you can say `Can you...?' or `Will you...?'

Can you give us a hand?

Can you make me a copy of that?

Will you post this for me on your way to work?

Will you turn on the light, please, Henry?

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If you think it is unlikely that the person you are asking will agree to your request, you use `You wouldn't...' and the tag `would you?', or `You couldn't...' and the tag `could you?' You also use these structures when you realize that you are asking them to do something which is difficult or will involve a lot of work.

You wouldn't sell it to me, would you?

You wouldn't lend me a bit of your greeny eyeshadow too, would you?

You couldn't give me a lift, could you?

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You can also use `I suppose you couldn't...' or `I don't suppose you would...'.

I suppose you couldn't just stay an hour or two longer?

I don't suppose you'd be prepared to stay in Edinburgh?

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People sometimes use expressions such as `Would you do me a favour?' and `I wonder if you could do me a favour' to indicate that they are about to ask you to do something for them.

`Oh, Bill, I wonder if you could do me a favour.' —-`Depends what it is.' —-`Could you ring me at this number about eleven on Sunday morning?'

`I wonder if you'd do me a favour.' —-`Of course.' —-`In that bag there's something I'd like your opinion on.'

`Will you do me a favour?' —-`Depends.' —-`Be nice to him.'

`Do me a favour, Grace. Don't say anything about a shark to Sally.' —-`All right, Martin.'

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orders and instructions
People often ask someone to do something, rather than telling them to do it, even when they have authority over them, because this is more polite. More direct ways of telling someone to do something are explained below.
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In an informal situation, you can use an imperative clause. This is a direct and forceful way of giving an order.

Pass the salt.

Let me see it.

Don't touch that!

Hurry up!

Look out! There's a car coming.

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Note that it is not very polite to use imperative clauses like this in speech and you only commonly use them when talking to people you know well, or in situations of danger or urgency.
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However, imperative forms are quite often used to invite someone to do something, in phrases such as `Come in' and `Take a seat'. See entry at ↑ Invitations.
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You can use `please' to make orders more polite.

Go and get the file, please.

Wear rubber gloves, please.

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You can use the question tag `will you?' to make an order sound less forceful and more like a request.

Come into the kitchen, will you?

Don't mention them, will you?

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Note that people also use `will you?' to make an order more forceful when they are angry. See section below on emphatic orders.
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You can also use the tag `won't you?' to make an order more like a request, unless you are giving a negative order.

See that she gets safely back, won't you?

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You can say `I would like you to...' or `I'd like you to...' as an indirect, polite way of telling someone to do something, especially someone you have authority over.

John, I would like you to get us the files.

I'd like you to read this.

I shall be away tomorrow, so I'd like you to chair the weekly meeting.

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emphatic orders
You use `do' in front of an imperative form to add emphasis when you are telling someone to do something that will be for their own benefit, or when you are friendly with them.

Do be careful.

Do remember to tell William about the change of plan.

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You use `You must...' to emphasize the importance and necessity of the action.

You must come at once.

You must tell no one.

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You can also add emphasis to an order by putting `you' in front of an imperative form. However, this is very informal and sometimes shows impatience.

You take it.

You get in the car.

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You use `Will you...?' to give an order in a forceful and direct way, either to someone you have authority over or when you are angry or impatient.

Will you pack everything, please, Maria.

Will you stop yelling!

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People also add the tag `will you?' to an imperative clause when they are angry.

Just listen to me a minute, will you?

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People say `Can't you...?' when they are very angry. This is very impolite.

Really, can't you show a bit more consideration?

Look, can't you shut up about it?

For God's sake, can't you leave me alone?

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Adding the question tag `can't you?' to an imperative clause is also impolite and shows annoyance.

Do it quietly, can't you?

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People use `You will...' to emphasize the fact that the other person has no choice but to carry out the order. This is a very strong form of order.

You will go and get one of your parents immediately.

You will give me those now.

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signs and notices
On signs and notices, negative orders are sometimes expressed by `no' and an `-ing' form.

No Smoking.

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`Must be' is sometimes used for positive orders.

Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times.

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instructions on how to do something
You can use an imperative clause to give instructions on how to do something. This is not impolite.

Turn right off Broadway into Caxton Street.

In emergency, dial 999 for police, fire or ambulance.

Fry the chopped onion and pepper in the oil.

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Imperative clauses are especially common in written instructions. Note that verbs which usually have an object are often not given an object in instructions, when it is clear what the instructions refer to. For example, you might see `Store in a dry place' on a packet of food, rather than `Store this food in a dry place'. Similarly, determiners are often left out. You might read in a recipe `Peel and core apples' rather than `Peel and core the apples'.
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`Must be' is used to indicate what you should do with something. `Should be' is used in a similar way, but is less strong.

Mussels must be bought fresh and cooked on the same day.

No cake should be stored before it is quite cold.

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See entry at ↑ Advising someone.
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In conversation and informal writing, you can also use `you' and the simple present tense to give instructions. We use `you' like this in this book.

First you take a few raisins and soak them overnight in water.

You take an underblanket and put it on the bed, and you tuck in the four corners. And then you take the sheet and lay it in the centre of the bed.

Note that in sentences like these you use an infinitive without `to' after `would rather'.

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replying to a request or order
You can agree to someone's request informally by saying `OK', `All right', or `Sure'.

`Do them as fast as you can.' —-`Yes, OK.'

`Don't do that.' —-`All right, I won't.'

`Could you give me lift?' —-`Sure.'

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If you want to be more polite, you can say `Certainly'.

`Could you make out my bill, please?' —-`Certainly, sir.'

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You can refuse someone's request by saying something like `I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't' or by giving the reason why you are unable to do what they want.

`Put it on the bill.' —-`I'm afraid I can't do that.'

`Do me this favour. This once.' —-`I'm sorry, Larry, I can't.'

`Could you phone me back later?' —-`No, I'm going out in five minutes.'

`Could you do me a taxi from 1 Updale Close to the station?' —-`I'm afraid there's nothing available at the moment.'

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It is impolite just to say `No'.
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Useful english dictionary. 2012.

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