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Being polite means being conscious of and respecting the feelings of other individuals. Usually one may not always notice politeness but we easily notice rudeness or inconsiderate behaviour. When one just starts to learn English, their main goal is to be understood. It is also important that he/she do not sound rude or unprofessional. There are many words and phrases in English that you may use to be kind and polite. You probably already know the most common polite words and phrases in English such as please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me etc. In this article we will discuss on How to be polite and show respect in English.
How to be Polite in English
When you have just started learning English, your main concern is to make yourself understood. Of course, it’s good to use phrases like please, thank you, and excuse me, but people will forgive you even if you leave them out, but one can not sure about it.
The fact is that the English language is full of little niceties and formalities, and ignoring them can make one come across as rude or unprofessional. If you have some accent or it’s clear it is not your first language, then English speakers will hopefully realise any impoliteness is not intentional, but it’s always better to focus on understanding the correct customs. Moreover, in some formal scenarios, such as job interviews, meetings with clients or colleagues, appointments with doctors, or simply when requesting help or asking for information, it is essential to make the best possible impression by speaking in a polite way. To help you communicate more politely, we have provided some suggestions in the next sections.
Making a Request
In English, when we ask for something or request someone to do something, we generally use modal verbs like should, could, might and would to sound more polite. They soften the request and does not make it sound like you are ordering someone to do something. For eg, it would be more polite to say “I would like a cup of tea, please”, instead of “I want a cup of tea”, or, even worse way of asking is:“Give me a cup of tea”. You should avoid giving commands and make your requests in an indirect way, preferably in the form of a question like:
- Could you please open the box?
- Do you think you could turn the volume down a little, please?
- Would you mind telling me the time, please?
- Would you be so kind as to pass me that pen?
- I would appreciate it if you could…
- I would be most grateful if you could….
- When convenient for you, could you please…
Saying ‘Thank You’
If your request has been met, then never forget to mention how grateful you are to the person for what they have done or said. Depending on the situation, you can use the following phrases to express gratitude in a polite manner:
- Thank you very much!
- That’s very kind of you.
- Thanks a lot! (note: this phraseis sometimes used sarcastically to mean the opposite. Make sure your tone is right!)
- Thanks, I appreciate it.
- You are so helpful.
- Thank you for taking the trouble to help me.
- Many thanks! (note: this is usually used for written thanks and would sound a bit odd when spoken out).
Not Agreeing Politely
If you have to express disagreement, it’s essential to show that you respect the individual’s opinion and just happen to think in a different manner. Try using the following expressions to soften your tone and voice out your opinion without the risk of offending the listener:
- I see what you mean, but…
- I’m afraid I don’t see it that way.
- I understand what you’re saying, but on the other hand…
- I respect your point, but…
- I’m not so sure about that.
- You could be right, but don’t forget that…
Turning Down an Invitation
Saying no to people in a polite manner is not always easy, so the next time you have to refuse an invitation, you can use these expressions without hurting the person’s feeling:
- I would love to, but…
- That sounds great, but…
- I’m afraid I can’t. I…
- Thanks so much for asking me, but…
- Unfortunately, I can’t because…
Not Understanding/Asking to Repeat
If you did not clearly hear what another individual has said, you can say “Sorry”, “Pardon me”, or “Excuse me”, or else use the expressions below to ask them to repeat in a polite way. Notice that it’s polite to take the blame on oneself for not being able to hear, even if it was actually because the speaker spoke too softly or there were other loud noises covering him/her up!
- I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.
- Could you say that again, please?
- Would you mind repeating that?
Avoiding ‘Finger-Pointing’ Statements
When dealing with a problem, coming across as rude human being can just make the problem worse. In order to sound more diplomatic and less aggressive, one must focus on ‘we’ and ‘I’ instead of ‘you’, which can come across as accusatory, and make use of passive voice:
- Perhaps I am not making myself clear.
In place of:
You’re not understanding me.
- My favourite mug has been broken!
In place of
You broke my favourite mug!
- It was agreed that you’d complete the task today.
In place of
You said you were going to complete the task today.
How to Show Respect in English
Although many other languages have a respect ‘built in’ through the pronouns used to address people in everyday interactions, in English, this is not common. So what can one do to be respectful when he or she has to communicate with elders or superiors?
Well, there are unquestionably many ways to do it! And that’s what we will discuss in this section. It includes:
- greeting people with respect
- addressing people with respect
- important & respectful phrases that one should use
So how do you greet with respect? How do you show that same respect when you’re communicating in English that you would when you communicate in languages like Japanese, Hindi, Arabic etc?
In English we don’t have many pronouns that show respect in general everyday communication, but you can show respect in other ways and the most appropriate way to show respect in English is by greeting someone properly. It’s going to set the tone for the whole conversation and most of them choose to greet with a really informal hey, hello, hi.
This is a casual and friendly way to say hello. Perfectly acceptable greeting but if you want to show respect to somebody you can make your language a little more formal. You can use the phrases:
- Good morning
- Good afternoon
- Good evening
All of these expressions are really common, you know them, but just by choosing these greetings, you are sounding more polite and showing more respect and if you are meeting somebody that you respect for the first time, you might also like to add: It’s a pleasure meeting you.
- Good morning, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
Just remember, you should not say “good night” when you greet someone right because “good night” means that you’re leaving, it’s a little more like a goodbye.
Addressing Someone with respect
All right let’s discuss about addressing someone with respect. In most of the Asian cultures there have been specific pronouns used to show respect especially when you’re referring to someone who is elder to you, you might use auntie or uncle.
In English we don’t have many specific titles that straight away show respect but there are some exceptions made for certain professions. So we address doctors and people with other professions by adding prefixes like
- + surname
- Professor+ surname
Example. Dr. Jones.
Maybe for some professors, you might do the same thing, Professor Choudry. In a formal situation or at schools, we would use a certain title followed by a person’s name like Miss Salma Jakobi or Miss Jakobi for woman or Mrs Smith if it was a married woman. Now some teachers and most likely the teachers at language schools or even tutors at universities may just prefer to be called by their first name and if you’re unsure about what to call them you can politely ask them by using the following expressions:
- How should I address you?
- Should I call you Mr Smith?
That way, you will find out exactly what they expect and what they feel comfortable with.
Now lets talk about the titles that are not often used and sometimes can seem so formal that they make people feel a little uncomfortable especially if they’re used in the wrong context.
Sir and madam or ma’am are not very common in countries like Australia or in the UK. However, they may be heard a little more often in parts of the United States especially in customer service or with people who are involved in the military.
For some of you it might seem strange or even a little rude to call your manager or your boss with their first name. You might want to refer to your boss as boss like:
- Good morning boss!
- Can I help you with that boss?
But to many English natives, this would feel a little strange. They usually feel more comfortable if you just refer to them by their first name.
Now the trick is when someone introduces themselves to you, you need to listen to the name that they use. They are informing you how to address them. The most respectful thing that you can do is to call anyone is with the name that they have offered to you because if you choose to call them something else because you think that’s more respectful, it’s kind of showing disrespect by not calling them what they want to be called.
1. Excuse me
Excuse me is one of the most commonly used respectful phrase in English. When you want to show someone respect, this phrase is crucial. It’s always awkward to interrupt someone when they’re talking or maybe when they are doing something else especially when you’re speaking to your superior at work.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to interrupt and the most respectful way to do this is to say:
Excuse me, I am so sorry to interrupt. Would you please mind helping me…?
It’s also the best way to ask someone to move out of the way.
Excuse me, would you mind if I get past?
2. Please and Thank You
It might seem simple but please and thank you are important too. English speakers know that as a child this was one of the first things that they were taught. Every English speaking parents are adamant that their kids are always saying please and thank you when they wanted something. They would make sure that their kids wouldn’t get it without those words.
In some other languages, these words are not as important as they are in English. Please and thank you are the most important expressions in English when you are trying to show respect. When you make a really simple request, if it’s just pass the sauce need to add please.
- Please pass the sauce.
- Could you please pass me the sauce?
- Could you pass the salt, sauce?
And then of course, when you get the sauce, you’d say thank you.
And that person, if they’re showing respect will also say you are welcome.
These are all really common expressions that are important if you are trying to show respect to someone in English.
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