Conversation Lesson | How To Be Polite & Show Respect in English

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

In this English conversation lesson, you’ll practice phrases to sound polite and show respect. I’ll teach you to make requests, offer suggestions, and say “no” politely. We’ll focus on your pronunciation, tone and natural expression so that you sound natural. This is your speaking training, so remember to practise out loud with me!

Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Today we get to practise twelve English expressions that will help you to sound polite and respectful in English. It’s a speaking and pronunciation workout that’s going to help you to truly understand native English speakers and also help you to sound more natural when you speak yourself.

Plus you’ll learn how to politely make requests, offer suggestions, say what you think and say no.

So get ready to practise out loud with me!

It can be hard to know how to be polite in English. Unlike lots of other languages in the world, English doesn’t have a formal structure built into the language that helps you to speak politely. You’ve actually got to learn what to say and how to say it.

So today’s conversation workout is going to focus on polite English expressions and just like you train at the gym, we’re going to be training in sets. You’ll do three sets of four English phrases and we’re going to practise each phrase three times.

So you get to listen to me first and then try it for yourself. And it’s a workout, all right? You’ve got to join in! Don’t make me do all the work! You’ve got to join me, all right?

Before we start, make sure you’re somewhere quiet and be ready to speak out loud. Speak at a normal volume, no whispering, no mouthing the words along with me, okay?

Set 1: Polite Requests

You know how to ask someone to do something for you.

  • Can you open the door?

But how do you do it politely? How do you make a request politely? One way is to use modal verbs like could or would, that makes it more polite.

  • Would you open the door for me?
  • Could you open the door for me?

Okay but we can actually take this a step further and we can make this request even more polite by adding a little introductory phrase to the beginning.

Would you mind…

  • Would you mind opening the door?

Can you hear how that all connects together? Would you mind?

Try it! Nice!

Maybe you’ve heard this slightly different version before.

If it’s okay with you…

  • If it’s okay with you, could we open the door?

So I’m politely checking that the person I’m talking to is happy to open the door – that they agree. And I’ve also used the pronoun we instead of you so this is an indirect way of making a request. I’m not directly asking someone to do something for me but I am suggesting what I would like with this expression.

And it’s very common amongst English speakers. Listen to the way that I say it.

  • If it’s okay with you, could we open the door?

Now you. Good stuff!

If you get the chance…

  • If you get the chance, could you send me that file?

One thing to notice is that pause where the comma is.

Say it quickly. You say it now.

Sounds good!

How about:

When you have a minute…

  • When you have a minute, would you send me that file?

Now notice how those pronouns you and the verb would almost disappear when spoken.

So now try it! Great!

Now before we move on, can you think of any other ways that you can politely make requests in English? If you can, add them down in the comments below. Share those polite ways of making requests in English down in the comments.

Set 2: Polite Suggestions

Now that we’ve warmed up, let’s have a look at some ways to offer polite suggestions.

So imagine you’ve just helped your friends move house, you know you’re trying to work out where to put all the furniture in the new house and how to arrange it in the room.

So instead of saying: Put the couch in the corner.
which sounds like you’re telling them what to do in their own house try saying:

What if…

  • What if we moved it here?

So simply by rephrasing this statement as a question, it makes it sound so much more polite and respectful.

Now can you hear how what and if are connected in natural speech That T sounds like a D. It’s that flap T sound.

You try it. Excellent!

You can also make a suggestion with:

How about…

  • How about we put the table in the corner?

Listen again.

So it’s not how about, the words are connected together. They flow.

And sometimes native speakers will actually reduce it even further by saying: How ’bout.

  • How ’bout we put the table in the corner?

You try it. Yeah! You got it.

Another one is:

Why don’t we…

  • Why don’t we take a break?

Notice how the T sound, that sound in don’t doesn’t actually happen when we’re speaking quickly.

Again, using the question makes this suggestion softer and more polite.

Copy it exactly as you hear me say it. Forget about the words and the letters on the screen. In fact, shut your eyes.

Your turn. That’s it.

So what do you think about practising one more? See what I did there?

This is an example of an indirect question which indirect questions are often used to make polite suggestions.

I said:

What do you think about…

What do you think about practising one more?

What do you think? Sounds like just one word, doesn’t it? What do you think about…

  • What do you think about practising one more?

Try it.

What other ways can we politely make a suggestion in English? Can you think of any more? Maybe some other phrases that you’ve learned or expressions that we could use in this same situation?

Tell me about it down in the comments.

Set 3: Saying No Politely

Saying no politely can be really hard. Lots of native English speakers just find this word no too direct. It can kind of sound rude in lots of contexts. So let me show you a couple of ways to say no without actually saying no.

Let’s say one of your colleagues has invited you to a barbecue but you don’t want to go or maybe you can’t go. How do you say no politely without causing them any offence?

Hey Emma, do you want to come to my place for a barbecue tomorrow?

(Better answer) I’m afraid I can’t make it, I’ve got something else on.

Too bad, maybe next time.

I’m afraid…

I’m afraid is a phrase that we use to soften bad news. I’m afraid I can’t make it. I’m afraid – that almost sounds like one word doesn’t it when spoken quickly and naturally.

  • I’m afraid I can’t make it.

And that word can’t is stressed.

You try it.


Maybe you’ve heard someone use the adverb unfortunately in a similar way.

  • Unfortunately, I can’t make it.

Unfortunately. So it’s the same as saying I’m afraid, it helps to soften the bad news a little. It makes it seem like you’re a little disappointed about it even if you’re not.

Say it with me: Unfortunately, I can’t make it.


Another way of politely declining an invitation or saying no is to be tentative. Like maybe I can come but maybe I can’t. Probably not.

So we can say:

It’s unlikely…

  • It’s unlikely I can make it.

Try it.

We can use doubt to express the same idea.

I doubt it…

  • I doubt if I’ll make it.

So we’re not technically saying no here at all, are we? And sometimes this can be really confusing because a lot of people don’t realise that this kind of answer usually means no. It usually means that someone is trying to make an excuse for themselves.

So it doesn’t mean maybe or I might come. Usually, it just means no. It’s a tentative way of saying no.

Now you can also say:

I’m not sure…

  • I’m not sure I can make it.

Yeah this can be a polite way of declining especially if you don’t want to make the person who’s asking feel uncomfortable.

You can just say: I’m not sure I can make it.

Look out for this word here and make sure you’re saying it correctly. Make sure.

  • I’m not sure I can make it.

This one’s a little tricky for all English speakers because you could genuinely want to go but if you’re unsure about being able to get there or get there on time, then you can still use this same expression.

But people use it all the time even if they’re not really intending on going to the event or doing something. They’ll use it as a way to just sort of politely indicate that they’re not interested and that they’re not going to do it.

They might add an extra phrase like:

  • I’ll find out and let you know
  • I’ll get back to you about it.

And then they will probably follow up and let you know whether or not they’re actually coming so if they’re giving those extra clues, that’s great but if they don’t get back to you, well, that means that they were really saying: No I don’t really want to go.

And that kind of hurts when it happens you know, it would be nice if everyone was open and honest and it was easy that way but unfortunately not.

So I hope you learned a few new ways to express yourself politely in English today. Which one was your favourite expression? Which one was tricky for you to say and to get out? Did you get tongue-tied in any way?

Let me know down in the comments and as always there are lots more videos here on the mmmEnglish channel to help you keep practising and improving your spoken English.

Why don’t you check out one of these two here? And if you haven’t subscribed to the channel yet make sure you do. Hit that subscribe button. Turn on notifications, that way you’ll be the first to know as soon as I’ve got a new lesson coming out for you.

Thanks so much for watching and I will see you next time. Bye for now!

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