Today you’re going to learn about how to request things with a command, and then adding will you or could you at the end.
They look like this:
Send me the email before 5 pm, will you?
Buy some bread on your way home, could you?
You may have noticed that the will you and could you come in the place of please.
I can also say:
Send me the email before 5, please.
Buy some bread on your way home, please.
What’s the difference between the commands with please or saying will you/could you?
There are three differences:
- The requests with will you/can you are questions. So put a question mark at the end of your question, will you? J
- The requests with will you and could you sound more friendly than the commands with please.
- And also: The requests with please sound more stiff and formal.
Typical Use of Will You and Can You
You will hear these kinds of requests especially when people are asking for a favour.
Can you always use will you and could you at the end of your request?
Yes, you can.
You’ve probably learnt in school about tags that they use the same tense as in the sentence. Like: It’s cold today, isn’t it? Or: You don’t eat much, do you?
But those are tag questions.
They are different from the requests with will you and could you.
The will you and could you requests are questions, as we’ve noted before. Plus, they are in the imperative mood. This means someone is giving a command = is telling someone what to do. To this command you can add will you or could you, and it doesn’t matter in what tense it is. (Commands don’t use tenses.)
Okay, so now that you know all the details, let’s have a look at some more examples and variations:
Put your cup back in the kitchen, will you?
Tell Shaw to get ready, will you?
Put a coaster under your drink, would you?
Pass me the ketchup, can you?
Phone Eva to invite her to the picnic on Saturday, would you?
Take your feet off the chair, will you?
Post this letter for me, could you?
Would You and Can You
As you can see in the examples above, you can also use would you and can you. What’s the difference? Nothing. They’re all the same and can be used interchangeable (= you can mix them.).
When is Will You and Can You, etc. Not Suitable?
As we’ve seen, these commands/requests with will you and can you are rather casual and informal. So you wouldn’t use them for the following:
1) Very big requests. It would be strange to ask this:
Lend me your car tomorrow, would you?
You would only ask in this way if it were normal for you to lend and borrow your car between you. Most people, I think, wouldn’t lend their car to a friend or relative as easily and casually as if it were a pen.
2) In very formal situations. It would be weird if you got a wedding invitation like this:
Meet us at the wedding hall at 2 pm and put on your best suit, will you?
But maybe you have a friend who likes to make jokes. In that case, it would be normal for this particular friend
3) In situations where the person you ask the request from is in a higher position than you.
We said that will you and can you etc. are used especially for asking favours. But you cannot usually ask people that are in a respectful position to do you a favour. Imagine that you ask Queen Elizabeth to do something for you in this way. Like saying to her: Close your mouth when you eat, will you? (I don’t think the Queen eats with her mouth open; this is just an example.) Well, I think she will be displeased!
Can you answer this question?
Let’s see if you know the answer to this now. Apply what you’ve just learnt.
Why is it wrong to ask: Will you marry me, will you?
Answer: At the bottom of this page.
Here’s a small exercise for you to practise.
Rewrite (or do this orally as you wish) the following sentences to a request with will you (or can you, etc.).
Can you lend me 1.50, please?
You say or write:
Lend me 1.50, will you?
(Or: can you/would you, etc.)
1 Could you close the door?
2 Do you have a pencil for me?
3 Can you add my name to the list, please?
4 Would you be quiet for a minute, please?
5 Can you send me the confirmation by email?
6 Could you wait for me, please?
Answers: Scroll down.
Scroll some more.
Answers to the Quiz:
1 Close the door, will you?
2 Give me a pencil, can you?
3 Add my name to the list, would you?
4 Be quiet for a minute, will you?
5 Send me the confirmation by email, could you?
6 Wait for me, will you?
Answer to the Question about Will you marry me:
It’s wrong to ask Will you marry me, will you? For two reasons:
1) It is not a tag question. Tag questions are in the form of a statement, followed by a tag that is the negative of the statement. Compare this: John wants to marry Petra, doesn’t he?
2) It is not a request like in the form that we learnt in this article. Will you marry me is not a command. In that case it would be like this: Marry me, will you? That would be a valid question, grammatically. But it has the same problem as the example with Lend me your car, will you, that the question is MUCH too big to ask in such a casual, offhand way. (Offhand also means casual.)
Conclusion: The question Will you marry me, will you? does not follow any English grammar rules (that I know of!), so that means this question is just a piece of nonsense.
Still have questions about the subject of this post? Let me know in a comment.