How To Be Polite in English

Learn how to be polite and learn how to ask questions in a polite manner. Also, I share 3 magic words to help you be polite. Enjoy :)


In my last episode, #35 I used a lot of slang (modismos). So I would like to take this opportunity to explain a couple of them! The first one I used was:

To go cross-eyed (quedar turneo) – when your eyes point towards your nose, that’s what it means. Metaphorically speaking, “hopefully you are not overwhelmed, you are not confused”
Another slang I used was, I think this was Australian slang, I think I said at the end of the episode, I said this was jam packed full of goodies.

What this means in Spanish…

Jam-packed full of goodies (un frasco de mermelado cargado de información) – and goodies means tips in Australia here. Just metaphorically speaking, I gave you a lot of information lots of tips for you to..absorb…to take in.

And in today’s episode, we are going to learn how to be polite (formal), especially when it comes to asking questions in a polite manner (de una manera formal). I am also going to reveal 3 magic words that you can use that will make you sound polite instantly!

3 Magic words. I will reveal those later in the episode.

So let’s begin, shall we?

First of all, what is politeness? What does it mean?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, it’s another weon inteligente, politeness is:
“Politeness is having or showing behaviour that is respectful and considerate of other people.” Oxford Dictionary.

This is according to Oxford dictionary.

So, basically it’s treating people with respect, showing good manners to others.
Ok, that’s their definition of politeness. (formalidad)

My definition of politeness is…well, it’s quite simple, don’t be a weon, just be nice.
Haha That’s my definition of politeness!!
Anyway, do you agree with me? I certainly hope so!

Now that we know the definition of politeness, how can we put it into practice?

Well, one of the things we can do is use our body-language (lenguaje corporal), In general, being polite is to be formal around the people you haven’t met before.

I am going to make a comparison between Spanish and English here.

When we refer to someone in a formal manner we use the personal pronoun Usted in Spanish, this is when we are referring to someone with respect. And when we are talking to our friends we use the personal pronoun Tú. This is in Spanish.

However, in English we refer to everyone as YOU.

When we refer to everyone as YOU, it’s always kind of informal, ok?

Like for example with our friends we usually have the relaxed and casual approach to speaking. (acercamiento mas casual)
And in these situations, we don’t really care about being formal, because they’re friends, but I think that there is still a degree of politeness that we need to follow, even when speaking with friends. Well one thing we could do is express that through our body language. ok?

One thing you can do is:
1. Smile, and make others feel comfortable around you, other people around you (se sientan bien)
2. Have a neutral tone of voice and don’t shout at people when you are speaking with them (no grites a)

So that’s when you are with your friends, you don’t want to put them under pressure, you know them very well so it’s a good idea to be relaxed and more informal with your friends.

On the other side, if you need to be polite with somebody, if you need to engage in a polite conversation with somebody one thing you could do is learn how to ask questions politely, in a polite manner. (establecer una conversación formal)

I hope you are following me so far guys!

And now I would like share my personal story…
You know, about 20 years ago when my family and I moved to NZ, we could barely speak English, we spoke broken English, we had limited vocabulary. Often English speakers would think of us as being rude or arrogant, we were asking questions in a very direct manner, we used phrases such as
Can you…..Do you… I want this…

Sounds very demanding!
We were short and abrupt in our conversations that made us look arrogant and rude.

There is nothing wrong with asking those short, direct questions, like we learnt before, but if we wanted to sound more polite we should choose our words carefully.

I will give you a few tips in this episode, you can replace words like Can, Want, Do and so on with something that sounds more polite.

So when you phrase your questions, you will sound more polite.

All that my family and I knew were the 3 magic words, Please and Thank You. Yup, those are the magic words. That’s all we knew how to be polite. We didn’t know other words! Please and Thank you.

So, how can we form questions that make us sound more polite.. right!

Remember, modal verbs? We learnt what they were in episode Might vs May. That’s the name.Go check it out, after this episode. I think this was episode 30 if my memory serves me right. Episode #30 was about expressing possibility, well we use those modal verbs to also ask questions in a polite manner.

We are going to use words could, would and may. They help us sound polite more polite.
Remember, could and would….L is silent. We don’t pronounce the L.

Well, how do we form questions in a polite manner then?

Here are a few examples:

Would you mind holding my bag please? (Te importaría..?)
(Would you mind moving to the right please….)
Could you please repeat that? (Podrías por favour…?)
Would you be so kind to pass me a bottle of wine? (Serias tan amable de pasarme esa botella de vino?)

Instead of asking can you pass me a bottle of wine?

Now, let’s try using MAY in an example. We can use May instead of Can. Using MAY makes us sound super polite! For example:

May I take your coat?
It’s super polite!

Are we ok so far guys? Excellent!

And another way we could be polite when we are making a request, is by using this phrase:

I was wondering if…. Me preguntaba si…
I was wondering if you could help me.

It’s a very polite way to ask.

So it’s a new phrase for you guys, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that one before….I was wondering if… I was wondering if you could help me.

It’s very common. I hear native speakers use this one a lot. So I would advise you to practise this one.

So going back to the modal verbs, I will give you some more examples, I will give you a tip on what you can do to sound more fluent.

Instead of saying to someone: Can you spell your name? Which would be a direct way of asking a question and can be interpreted as being rude or arrogant.

Can you spell your name? When you ask somebody like that in a direct manner.

What you can do is, simply say:

Simply say: Could you please spell your name?

All we do is replace CAN with COULD.

Can you spell your name? Becomes: Could you spell your name, please? OR Could you please spell your name? Same thing.

And in the Episode #8 if you go back to episode #8, we learnt how to order food at a restaurant, remember? That was a really good example of somebody asking a questions politely.

Instead of saying to the waiter: I want calamari salad.
You should say:
I would like the calamari salad please or
I will have calamari salad please or I would like to order calamari salad, thank you.
Simply replace or swap, the words I want with the words I would like to

And you become polite! Instantly!

Would you like to order the calamari salad, sir? What about our finest champagne, it will compliment your salad.

Mhmmm…. I am getting hungry now!!

And here is my last tip on sounding polite, if you want to say that something is not possible we use polite phrases like:
I’m sorry but…
I’m afraid I don’t know…

An example, let’s imagine a stranger stops you on the street:
Excuse me m’am. Could you please help me, I am looking for the nearest supermarket? Would you know where it is?

And I will be like:
I’m afraid I don’t know where it is. Or I am sorry but I don’t know where it is.

See those phrases…

OR if you want to be impolite, the opposite of polite – you could say:
I am sorry but I don’t know where it is, my husband does all the shopping in the house, you should ask him, now get out of my way. Move! Goodbye.

That’s not very nice Milena. That was an example of someone being impolite, opposite of polite. That’s me everyday!

Righto, we are approaching the end of the show guys.

So remember the 3 magic words – Please and Thank You.

Use those words, and they will make you sound more polite…instantly!

Your homework is to practise being polite, practise using the magic words and the phrases we learnt in this episode. I think I should also do the same homework, I need to practise being polite….more often!

Thank you for joining me, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you for listening to this episode of English Made Simple. And next week we will learn how to talk to someone over the phone, we will learn some new vocabulary. Oh, splendid!

Remember, all transcriptions are available on my website,, if you have any questions on any of the topics we covered in this show, please let me know in the Facebook Group English Made Simple or on my website. This podcast is for YOU and I am here to help you learn! So let’s do this!

Wish you all the best, que les vaya muy bien. Goodbye

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