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Asking for Things

How to Ask for Something in English

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Every English learner needs to know how to ask for something in English. There are a number of ways to do this. If you know that someone has something, you can ask for something directly with a polite question. If you don't know, it's possible to ask for something with a yes / no question. Be careful to not use the imperative form to ask for things. In other words, don't say "Give me that", but ask kindly as shown in the following examples:

Do you have a pen I could borrow?
Is there any wine?
Did you buy any bread?

If you know or can see that someone has something, ask a polite question with 'could', or 'may'. It's also possible to use 'can' in more informal situations. In the past, 'can' was not used when asking for something, but only to refer to ability. In the UK, Cambridge University publishes English teaching materials with the phrase 'Can you lend me..', 'Can I have ...', etc. In the United States, this form is still considered to be incorrect and 'May I have ...' is preferred.

It's common to ask for things using yes / no polite phrases with 'Could you ...' and verbs such as 'lend', 'hand' and 'give'. Here are a number of phrases you can use to ask for something in English.

May I borrow a ..., please?
Could you lend me a ..., please?
May I have a / some ..., please?
Could you hand me that / some ..., please?

With 'Can' (NOTE: Not considered correct by all teachers, but accepted in the UK)

Can I borrow a / some ..., please?
Can you lend me that / some ...., please? etc.

Do not begin a sentence with 'please', but you can add 'please' at then end of the sentence to be polite.

NOT Please give me a pen.
Correct: Could you give me a pen, please?

Example Dialogues

Person 1: Could you hand me that magazine?
Person 2: Certainly, here it is.

Person 1: Could you lend me a few dollars for lunch, please?
Person 2: I'd be happy to do that. How much do you need?

You can also ask for things using 'Could I ...' with verbs such as 'borrow', 'have', and 'use'.

Example Dialogues

Person 1: Could I borrow your pen, please?
Person 2: Certainly, here you are.

Person 1: Could I use that book?
Person 2: The red one, or the blue one?
Person 1: The blue one. Thank you.

It's also possible to ask for things more politely by using an indirect question. Indirect questions begin with phrase such as 'Do you think ...', 'I wonder ...', 'Would it be alright if ...', etc.

Example Dialogues

Person 1: Would you mind loaning me your pen?
Person 2: Certainly, here you are.

Person 1: I wonder if you could help me with this problem?
Person 2: I'd be happy to do that. What seems to be the problem?

Special Note on Borrow / Lend

Remember that when you ask for something in English it's possible to borrow that item from someone. Someone lends the item to you.

Borrow = give to someone to use
Lend = take from someone to use

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