There was some actual research done on which word is most polite in English. The test involved women asking their husbands to take out the garbage. Here were the different expressions the women were told to ask their husbands:
1. Darling, please take out the garbage.
2. Could you please take out the garbage?
3. Take out the garbage for once, will you?
4. Would you please take out the garbage?
5. Can you take out the garbage, please?
6. Will you take out the garbage, please?
Can you guess which question was most effective at getting the men to take out the garbage?
The answer is number 4.
Would you, could you, can you?
Using the word would in English, according to this research, resulted in more men taking out the garbage. I suspect that the word "would" also works on women. Why? Because "would" means willing, willing to please. So, when you ask someone in English, “Would you please take out the garbage for me,” you’re giving the person a choice.
On the other hand, you may think that using the words "could" or "can" are also polite. And they are, but not as polite as "would". "Could" and "can" mean: are you able to do something? These words question if you are capable of doing something, but they don’t give you the choice of doing something.
So, here’s your first tip: In English, if you want to get someone to do something for you in the most polite way, try using the word "would", e.g.: "Would you please call a taxi for me?"
How polite is English?
Every language has a certain degree (amount) of politeness. Every language has words for please and thank you. But, every language is a part of its culture that decides how polite to be. English is probably in the middle as far as politeness goes.
English is not as effusive (expressive) as most Asian languages, and it’s more polite than German which sounds more abrupt (short and to the point). In other words, Asian cultures are very polite when they start and end conversations. Germans seem like they would rather get to the point (not talk too long) instead of spending a lot of time being polite.
Here are 3 situations to be aware of:
English speakers who meet for the first time are expected to say:
• Good morning (depending on the time of day)
• How are you?
But, English speakers are not expected to say much in response to the question "How are you?" That’s because no one really cares how anyone is. It’s enough to say:
It’s considered impolite to say anything negative, except to people you know well. It is customary and polite for men and women to shake hands when meeting.
English speakers are very concerned with being tactful when disagreeing with someone during a conversation or especially during a business meeting. Being tactful means being considerate about someone else’s feelings and being careful not to say something offensive. So, when disagreeing, instead of saying "you’re wrong", many English speakers will often say one of the following:
• I’m sorry, but I have to disagree.
• I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t agree.
3. Saying Goodbye
When ending conversations or business meetings, English speakers make sure they say goodbye and express their appreciation about spending time with each other:
• It’s been very nice meeting you.
• Very nice meeting you. Hope we meet again soon.
• I’ll call (or email) you soon.
Practice these expressions, and you’ll have the very courteous (good, polite) manners of a native English speaker.
Ilene Springer is an italki teacher from the US and thinks the British are very polite.