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Requests and Permission

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There are many ways of making requests and asking for permission in English. Consider these situations:

Conversation 1
John and Sandra are a couple on holiday in Paris and John goes up to a stranger:
John  ‘Excuse me, sorry to bother you, would you mind taking our picture?’
Stranger ‘No not at all. Where would you like to stand?’
Sandra  ‘Here’s fine. In front of the Eifel Tower.’
Stranger  ‘Great, say cheese.’

Conversation 2
Paul needs to ask his boss for permission to leave work early the next day:
Paul  ‘Mr Clark.’
Mr Clark  ‘Hi Paul, is everything OK?’
Paul  ‘Yes thanks. It’s just, do you mind if I leave early tomorrow? I need to take my sister to the airport.’
Mr Clark ‘No, of course not. That’s fine.
Paul  ‘Thanks.’

Conversation 3
Harry needs to make a call but his phone battery is flat. He’s with his friend Bill.
Harry ‘Oh no, my phone’s dead. Is it OK if I use yours? To phone Carol.’
Bill  ‘Yeah sure. Go ahead. How are you and Carol getting on?’
Harry  ‘Cheers. Not bad, not bad at all.’

Conversation 4
Pat and Anne are classmates. Pat’s pen runs out:
Pat ‘My pen’s run out. Could I borrow one of yours?’
Anne ‘Sure. Here you are.’
Pat  ‘Thanks.’

These are a few ways to ask permission or make a request. The actual questions are:

  1. ‘Would you mind taking our picture?’                       
  2. ‘Do you mind if I leave early tomorrow?’
  3. ‘Is it OK if I use your phone?’
  4. ‘Could I borrow one of yours?’

Each different structure depends on the relationship between the people involved and the nature of the request. 1 and 2 are more formal than 3 and 4.
Would you mind/Do you mind...?
Would you mind/Do you mind are used in more formal situations and ‘Would you mind’ is seen as more formal than ‘Do you mind’
‘Would you mind taking our picture?’ is slightly more formal than ‘Do you mind taking our picture?’ but the structure is very similar.

However if the person speaking asks permission to do something it changes to:
‘Would you mind if I opened a window?’
‘Do you mind if I open a window?’

The reply to granting the request or giving permission is:
‘No of course not/No, not at all.’ This can be a little confusing but consider the meaning:
Would you mind/Do you mind = Do you have a problem?
No, not at all/No, of course not = No I don’t have a problem.

Can I/ Could I/ Is it OK if...? Yes sure/Yes of course go ahead/here you are.

When refusing permission or denying a request it is considered polite to give a reason with phrases like; I’m sorry but... I’m afraid...
‘Do you mind if I open a window?’ ‘Well actually I’m afraid I’m expecting a call any moment and it’s quite noisy outside. Do you mind waiting a moment?’
‘Could I use your phone?’ ‘I’m sorry but I’m out of credit right now.’

Lesson by Tristan, English teacher at EC Malta English school

Decide which of these is the correct question:

  • 1) Two strangers in a train:

  • 2) Two colleagues at work:

  • 3) At a restaurant: ‘Excuse me but do you mind if I take this chair?’

  • 4) A man to his neighbour:

  • 5) A tourist in a city:

  • 6) A couple at home – the phone is ringing: