Can I? Could I? May I?


Hi. I’m Rebecca from engVid. In this lesson I’m going to show you three
simple ways that you can ask a polite question in English. Okay? Now, usually when we’re asking a question,
it’s we’re asking if we can do something or we’re asking permission, or we’re asking someone
else to do something for us, in which case we are requesting that they do something. All right? And there are three key words that you can
use for this purpose, but in different ways. So, let’s look at what they are. All right. So, those three words are: “can”, “could”, and “may”. Now, of course, you’ve heard those words before
and I’m sure you use them as well, but let’s be really sure when to use which one. So, it’s very easy. We use “can” in more informal situations. All right? What do I mean by “informal”? For example, with your family or friends. All right? We use “could” in more semi-formal situations. “Semi-formal” means a little bit formal. For example, with your colleagues, people
you work with. Right? With your hairdresser perhaps,
with a salesperson in a store. All right? There we could use “could” so we kind of know
that person or we don’t know that person too well, but it’s not a very formal situation. And the last is in formal situations when
we use “may”. So, what’s a “formal situation”? Well, for example, if you’re talking to a
client, or a customer, or you’re at an interview, then you want to be on your best behaviour,
use your best manners, be very polite, be very formal and proper, and that’s when we use “may”. Now, there is a little difference in terms
of the grammar of how we use these three words. So, with “can” and “could”, we can use those
two with all of the pronouns. So, we can say: “can I”, “can you”, “can we”,
“could they”, “could he”, “could she”, “could it”. All right? Can use those with all of the pronouns. But when we come to “may”, we can only use it with “I” or “we”. All right? “May I do this?” or “May we” – you can’t really
ask permission for somebody else so much, so this is… These are the two ways we use “May”. All right? Sometimes you might hear it with one or two
other pronouns, but really, these are the most common. All right? So that’s what you want to be able to use
so you can always be 100% right. Now, let’s look at the same question and how
it’s different with the three words. All right? So, let’s say I’m at home and I ask someone
from my family: “Can I have some orange juice?” All right? So, there I’m using “can” because it’s really
informal. Now let’s say I’m at the mall, I’m at the
food court and I’m ordering some juice, so I say: “Could I have some orange juice?” All right? Slightly more formal. And now let’s pretend that we’re in a fancy
restaurant and I’m ordering orange juice, so then I say: “May I have some orange juice?” Okay? Now, you could add the word “please” also,
but with some of these it’s already very polite, so you don’t have to go overboard, you don’t
have to do too much, you don’t have to always say “please”, especially when you’re asking for yourself. Okay? If you’re requesting something that someone
else do, then often we do add the “please” as well. Okay? Now, what are some of the responses? We’re not really focusing on the responses
in this lesson, but let me just tell you what would be the appropriate responses-positive
responses and negative responses-to these questions. So, if someone said: “Can I have some orange
juice?”-informal-the answer might be: “Sure, here you go.” Or: -“Could I have some orange juice?” -“Yes, of course.” -“May I have some orange juice?” -“Certainly.” Okay? So you see that the formality of the question
matches the formality of the answer. If it was negative: -“Can I…?” -“Sorry, we’re all out.” -“Could I…?” -“I’m sorry, we’re all out.” -“May I…?” -“I’m afraid we’re all out.” Okay? Same basic information, but
represented quite differently. So now let’s look at some more examples. All right. So, informally, we could say: “Can I help
you wash the dishes?” That would be a really nice thing to say to
someone. Okay. All right. Or: “Can you clear the table, please?” Now, you see here because I’m requesting something
of someone else, it’s perfectly nice and fine to say “please” at the end. Okay? “Can you clear the table, please?” What does that mean: “Clear the table”? After you finish eating, you know there are
a lot of dishes on the table, and when you take those dishes to the kitchen or wherever,
and you clear the table. That’s called “clearing the table”. All right? Next, in a semi-formal situation where we’re using “Could”, we could say: “Could I get your email address?” Or: “Could you send me the report, please?” All right? That’s, again, some business examples. Very common questions that we need to ask people. All right? And here, the more formal situation: “May
I help you?” This is probably the most common question
that is used in customer-oriented situations. Every time you walk into a store, especially
a fancy store: “May I help you?”, “May I help you?” Or on the phone, if you have a customer service job. Okay? And then it’s sometimes a little bit more
specific: “May I help you carry your bags, ma’am?” Let’s say in a hotel. All right? So, anytime you’re trying to be really polite
to that other person, you want to use “May”. This was… These were my examples. Now let’s see how you do. All right, so now you need to decide whether
to use: “Can I”, ” Could I”, or “May I” in these situations. All right? So, you’re talking to your professor. What do you say? “_______ submit my paper on Monday?” “Can I”, “Could I”, “May I”. Well, this is something where you are going
to have to decide. Perhaps you’ll say: “Could I submit my paper
on Monday?” or, depending on your relationship with your professor, depending on the personality
of the professor, depending on the personality of the university or the country that you
live in, you might need to use some more formal version. “May I submit my paper on Monday?” I would probably say, in that situation: “May I”
because I really want to be able to submit my paper late, which is probably
what we’re asking here. All right? So, sometimes even if your relationship with
someone is semi-formal, you might still want to act a little more formal because of your
specific request. All right? Okay. Now, here you’re talking to a friend, so what
do you say? “_______ open the window?” So, here, it’s pretty straightforward: “Can
I open the window?” All right. You’re talking to a hotel guest:
“_______ help you get a taxi?” So, again, here you want to be very formal. “May I help you get a taxi?” Good. You’re talking to a salesperson in the store:
“_______ speak to the manager?” What are you going to say? This is one of those semi-formal situations. All right? So, you probably say: “Could I speak to the
manager?” All right? Good. Hope you got those. Now let’s move here to:
“Can you” or “Could you”, all right? So, you’re talking to a child, your child,
probably, so what do you say? “_______ clean your room?” So, probably most parents would say: “Can
you clean your room?” You can always be polite to your children
because you’re also trying to teach them, so you could always say: “Could you clean
your room, please?” because that way you are modelling how they should speak, so that’s
fine. But on an everyday basis, lots of people would
probably say: “Can you clean your room?” Okay? Or at least add the “please”. Next, let’s say you’re speaking to an audience
and you want them to switch off their cell phones. Right? So:
“_______ switch off your cell phones?” So, here, you would say: “Could you”. Okay? It’s more formal. “Could you switch off your cell phones, please?” All right? There would be a good place to put the “please”
in. All right. You’re talking to your brother:
“_______ call me later?” So, what would you say? “Can you”, right? Informal relationship, you know him: “Can
you call me later? I’m busy right now.” Next, you’re asking a receptionist:
“_______ connect me to the sales department, please?” So, what would you say? Again, you want to be a little bit more polite. “Could you connect me to the sales department,
please?” All right? Now, that was really good. Hope you got all of those right. If you want to really master these three words:
“Can I”, “Could I”, and “May I”, then please go to our website at www.engvid.com, and there
you can do a quiz on this and really master it so that you know it once and for all, and
that’s it; you don’t have to keep going round and round – you’ve got it. All right? And also subscribe to my YouTube channel for
lots of other delightful lessons that will help you improve your English much faster. Thanks very much for watching. Bye for now.

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