Modals of Polite Request: Would you, Could you, Will you, Can you


These four questions are made with modal verbs:

  • Would you... ?
  • Could you... ?
  • Will you... ?
  • Can you... ?

Modal verbs are helping/auxiliary verbs that express ideas like ability, permission, and asking for assistance. Many modal verbs have more than one meaning. They are always followed by the simple form of a verb.

For example:

Could you help me for a minute, please?

This shows that the speaker is asking for help politely.

To ask questions in a very polite way, use: Would you/ Could you (please) + simple verb + ...?

For example:

Would you please email that document to me? I need it ASAP*.

Could you explain that again, please? I didn’t understand.

*ASAP = as soon as possible

To ask questions in a polite but more casual way, say: Will you/ Can you (please) + simple verb + ...?

For example:

Will you please answer the phone? I’m working.

Can you hold my books for me? My hands are full.

We do not use the word “may” in a polite question when “you” is the subject.

For example:

May you please close the door?  arrrow to the right  Wrong!

Could you please close the door?  arrrow to the right  Right!

The word “please” makes the request more polite and less direct. Canadians use “please” often and visitors are expected to ask for help politely, using “please.”

Possible positive answers to the questions above:

Yes. Yes certainly.
Yes, of course.
Of course.
I’d be happy to.
I’d be glad to.
My pleasure.   

Informally, we can say:

Uh-huh. (means yes)

To answer negatively, we say:

No, I’m sorry. I can’t.
Sorry, I can’t.  I’m busy right now.
I’d like to, but I can’t.
I’d love to, but I’m busy right now.


When you are sure that you understand the lesson, you can continue with the exercise.