Asking Permission

Как спросить разрешение сделать что-либо.


This programme is about asking permission — which means asking someone if you’re allowed to do something. Listen to this first example, which shows one of the most common ways of asking permission.

Hinna, can I use your computer for a minute?

Very simple: the phrase ‘can I’ followed by the verb. But what verb form comes after the phrase ‘can I’? Listen to these two examples of asking.

Can he call you back later?

Can I use your scissors?

‘Call’ and ‘use’ are the base form of the verbs, which is the infinitive without ‘to. Now let’s listen to a slightly different way of asking permission.

Oh Emily, I forgot to bring my phone charger today, could I borrow yours for a minute please?

Instead of ‘can I borrow’, we hear ‘could I…?’ Using ‘Could I…?’ instead of ‘Can I…?’ sounds slightly more formal. You might use ‘could’ if you want to be more polite. Like the word ‘can’, ‘could’ is always used with the base infinitive form of the verb.

Could she write me a summary of the report?

You may have spotted a phrase that came up at the end of a couple of the phrases we heard earlier.

Hinna, can I use your computer for a minute?

Oh Emily, I forgot to bring my phone charger today, could I borrow yours for a minute please?

Both speakers asked permission to do something ‘for a minute’. They didn’t literally mean they would spend sixty seconds using the computer or borrowing the phone charger. But it’s a way of showing that you only want to borrow something for a short time and you’re trying not to bother the other person too much.

Hinna, can I use your computer for a minute?

Oh Emily, I forgot to bring my phone charger today, could I borrow yours for a minute please?

We also heard the magic word ‘please’ at the end of that question. Parents often get very cross with their children if they ask permission without using the word ‘please’. But the reality is that it’s often fine not to include it. We tend to use intonation in our questions to sound polite, so we don’t always need the extra ‘please’. Listen to these examples. The first doesn’t sound very polite.

Could I have that? (demanding) But the second…

Could I have that? (questioning)

Sounds more like a polite question than an aggressive demand because of the way the voice goes up.

Could I have that? (demanding)

Could I have that? (questioning)

Listen to some more examples of the differences.

Could I see you?

Could I see you?

The second phrase came across as a polite question, unlike the first. What about here?

Could you give that to me?

Could you give that to me?

As long as you ask your question in a polite tone of voice, you need a ‘please’ — having said that, there’s never anything wrong with using ‘please’ when asking permission. Let’s look at another structure for asking permission.

Matt, would it be OK if I took the afternoon off on Friday?

Would it be OK if — fairly informal way of asking permission. You could also say ‘Would it be alright if…?’ What verb form follows these questions?

Matt, would it be OK if I took the afternoon off on Friday?

I’m not feeling well today would it be alright if I did this tomorrow?

In both these cases, the phrases are followed by the past subjunctive form of the verb. However, you could also use the present form — this sounds slightly less formal.

Matt, would it be OK if I take the afternoon off on Friday?

I’m not feeling well today would it be alright if I do this tomorrow?

So ‘Would it be OK if…? and ‘Would it be alright if…?’ can be followed by the present or, for a slightly more formal effect, the past subjunctive. If you want to be even more polite, another variation on the structures we’ve just heard is ‘Would I be able to…?’ Would I be able to talk to you about something? ‘Would I be able to’ — a polite way of asking permission. Now it’s time to check you’ve understood the things we’ve looked at. Which of these requests is correct — the first or the second?

Can she sits here?

Can she sit here?

The second phrase is correct — remember ‘Do you mind if…?’ is used with the base infinitive verb form. Now, which of these two questions sounds the most formal?

Would I be able to talk to you about something?

Is it OK if I leave early?

The first question is more formal ‘Would I be able to…?’ sounds more distant than ‘Is it OK if I…?

And the last question now I’m going to ask a question in two different ways. Which one is a more polite way of asking the question, the first or the second:

Can I help you?

Can I help you?

Well, the second way is more polite because of my intonation.