expressions · speaking

Make Your English Sound Friendly and Polite


By Jacqueline Schaalje

Some of my students have asked me sometimes why there are so many ways to say the same thing in English. I usually answer that there are subtle differences in meaning. Sometimes, however, the differences are huge! You can say something rudely or politely, and there are many grey shades in between. Maybe 50 shades of grey. Just kidding.

Rude Vs. Polite

Let’s look at how you could say a few things in a rude way, and in a polite and friendly way.

This is important, because you want to be able to choose your friends. With people you want to be friendly with, use only the polite and respectful way to talk, especially in the beginning when you just get to know them. With annoying people you’re happy to see walk away, you can use the rude way, if you like. Or better still: don’t ever use the rude way of saying things. It’s important to be kind in life.

Can, Could and Would Sound Friendly

On the whole the expressions with “can,” “could,” and “would” sound friendly.

Can you help me? And not: I need your help now.

Could you give me your name, please? And not: Give me your name, quickly.

I’d like you to join the list. And not: Join the list, if you have a brain.

I Think That..

If you make your expression sound less definite and less as if you’re sure of yourself, it will sound more pleasant and gentle. Use “I think,” “I’m sorry but,” “I thought that,” “I was under the impression that,” etc.

Hold the Fucking Shit

Last note before we begin. Whatever you do, please don’t say “fuck” or “fucking.” I know this is fashionable nowadays. I want to tell you that I went to an awful party some weeks ago. The people there came from different countries, so we spoke English. There was one person (I’m not mentioning any names) who kept saying fucking in every other sentence. As in: “I couldn’t find the fucking key.” Or: “My friend fucking well knew I was right.”

The habit probably comes from the kind of Hollywood movies in which the heroes say “fucking” to intensify what they’re saying. These types often are gangsters, soldiers, losers, or some other kind of low characters who don’t know any better. Anyway, all the time when this person at the party said his f*** sentences, I was horrified and kept wishing he’d drown in his glass of wine. The strange thing was that the other guests at the party, all perfectly nice people, didn’t blink. Too many people are used to hearing “shit” and “fuck” all the time, it seems. I don’t deny that f*** can sound funny sometimes, like in the funny birthday card that you see in the picture, but it should be used sparingly (once a year is a good count).

Examples of Rude or Pleasant

Not too polite or downright rude Polite and pleasant
Help me please! Can you give me a hand?
What’s this? Can you explain me what this is, please?
(When invited to something) Okay. I’d love to.
Sit down. Please have a seat.
Try this. You should try this, it’s good.
I want an iced coffee. I’d like an iced coffee, please.
Why should I? I’m sorry, but I don’t think I need to do this.
Don’t give me that fucking shit. I don’t believe your story.
Fuck you. I really don’t like you.
Jan is ugly and stupid. [Just say nothing.]

Now it’s time for you to try to make polite and pleasant expressions. You’ll find the solutions when you scroll down.


Not too polite or downright rude Polite and pleasant
Give me a glass of water.
Who asked your opinion?
I don’t care.
Get lost.
Shut up.
Suit yourself.
Gimme the phone.
I want to speak to Cecil.
(To someone who is smoking inside the building, or sitting on your seat, etc.) Do you mind?
You suck.

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Possible Solutions:

If you have something slightly different, it could also be okay.

Not too polite or downright rude Polite and pleasant
Give me a glass of water. Could I have a glass of water, please?
Who asked your opinion? That’s interesting, but I don’t agree with you.
I don’t care. I’m not sure this is a good idea.
Get lost. I would like you to leave now.
Shut up. Please be quiet. / Can I say something?
Suit yourself. Well, you decide then.
Gimme the phone. Can/Could/Would you hand me the phone, please?
I want to speak to Cecil. I’d like to speak to Cecil/Mr. Burns.
(To someone who is smoking inside the building, or sitting on two seats, etc.) Do you mind? Could you please smoke outside?

Could you please move?

You suck. Sorry, but I don’t agree with you at all.



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