How to Show Respect in English | Words + Actions

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

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This week’s lesson is all about how to show respect in English. and the words and actions that help us to be respectful.

It’s a question I get asked often because many other languages have a respect ‘built in’ through the pronouns used to address people in everyday interactions. In English, this is less common… So what can you do to be respectful when communicating with your elders or superiors?

Well, there are DEFINITELY ways to do it! And that’s what I want to share in this lesson. I’ll cover:

1. greeting people respectfully
2. addressing people respectfully
3. important & respectful phrases that you should use
4. the actions you should and shouldn’t do to show respect

You’ll see that there are easy, achievable ways to show respect in English, and be able to put them into practice right away!

✍️ I’m also curious to hear from you… How do you show respect in your native language?
What are the similarities and differences between showing respect in your native language and in English?

Enjoy the lesson!
Emma x

———- TIMESTAMPS ———-
0:30 Introduction
02:45 Greet Respectfully
03:52 Addressing Someone With Respect
07:00 Respectful Phrases
08:45 Actions that show respect

CLICK HERE to read the full lesson transcript.

Video Transcript
Section 1

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Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish and in this lesson, I’m going to show you how to show respect in English because it’s something that my students ask me often because they’ve realised that in English we don’t have many specific words or pronouns to show respect like lots of other languages do so I’m going to go over three main things in this lesson:

  1. How to greet people in a respectful way, especially people who are older than you or your boss or manager, your lecturer, people that you respect and you want to show respect to.
  2. I’ll also show you how we address people respectfully.
  3. And how in English our actions are often more important than words when we’re communicating and we’re showing respect.

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A little while back, I made a lesson about how to be polite and show respect in English. It really focused on how to say no politely, how to make polite requests and suggestions but it did get me thinking about showing respect in English because many other languages have really specific pronouns or ways to address older people or people who you respect.

My Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese students will all know how important those pronouns are when addressing family members or people who are older than you. I mean it’s built into your languages, isn’t it?


Greet respectful

So how do you do that? How do you show that same respect when you’re communicating in English?

We don’t have many pronouns that show respect in general everyday language but you can show respect in other ways and the most important way to show respect in English is by greeting someone properly. It’s going to set the tone for the whole conversation and most people choose to greet with a really informal hello, hi, hey.

Casual and friendly way to say hello, right? Perfectly acceptable greeting but if you deliberately want to show respect to someone you can make your language a little more formal. You can say:

  • Good morning
  • Good afternoon
  • Good evening

All of these expressions are really common, you know them, but just by choosing these greetings, you’re instantly sounding more polite and showing more respect and if you’re meeting someone that you respect for the first time, you might also add: It’s a pleasure to meet you.

  • Good afternoon, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Just remember, you wouldn’t actually say “good night” when you greet someone right because “good night” indicates that you’re leaving, it’s a little more like goodbye.


Addressing someone with respect

All right let’s talk about addressing someone with respect. I know in lots of the Asian cultures where I’ve lived there have been specific pronouns used to show respect especially when you’re referring to someone who’s older than you, you might say auntie or uncle.

How do you show respect in your language? Do you have some similar pronouns like this? Something that you use to show respect to those who are older? Let me know down in the comments, I’m really interested to hear from you.

Like I said, in English we don’t have many specific titles that immediately show respect but there are some exceptions made for certain professions. So we address doctors by saying

Dr. + surname
Professor + surname

Example. Dr. Jones.
Maybe for some professors, you might do the same thing, Professor Saunders.

In a formal situation or definitely at school, we would use a certain title followed by a person’s name so it would be Miss Emma Jakobi or Miss Jakobi for a woman.

Mr Smith or Mrs Smith if it was a married woman.

Now some teachers and especially teachers at language schools or even tutors at universities, they may just prefer you to call them by their first name and if you’re unsure about what to call them you can politely ask them by saying:

  • How should I address you?
  • Should I call you Mr Turner?

That way, you’ll find out exactly what they expect and what they feel comfortable with.


Now what I do want to talk to you about are the titles that are not often used and sometimes can seem so formal that they make people feel a little uncomfortable especially if they’re used in the wrong context.

Sir and madam or ma’am are not very common in Australia or in the UK. However, they may be heard a little more often in parts of the US especially in customer service or with people who are involved in the military.

And I know that for some of you it might seem strange or even a little rude to call your manager or your boss by their first name. You might instinctively want to refer to your boss as boss.

  • Good morning boss!
  • Can I help you with that boss?

But to many English speakers, this would feel a little strange. They may feel more comfortable if you just refer to them by their first name.

Now the trick is when someone introduces themselves to you, you just need to listen to the name that they use. They’re telling you how to address them. The most respectful thing that you can do is to call them the name that they have offered to you because if you choose to call them something else because you think that’s more respectful, it’s kind of showing disrespect by not calling them what they want you to call them.


Respectful phrases

1. Excuse me

Excuse me goes a long, long way in English. When you want to show someone respect, this phrase is essential. It’s always awkward to interrupt someone when they’re speaking or maybe when they’re doing something else especially when you’re talking to your superior at work.

Sometimes it’s got to be done and the most respectful way to do this is to say:

  • Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt. Would you mind helping me…?

It’s also a good way to ask someone to move out of the way.

  • Excuse me, would you mind if I get past?
    Oh sure.


2. Please and thank you

It might seem simple but please and thank you are essential too. English speakers know that as a child this was one of the first things that you were taught.

When I was growing up my parents were adamant that my brothers and I were always saying please and thank you when we wanted something. We wouldn’t get it without those words.

In some languages, they’re not as important as they are in English. Please and thank you are just so important in English when you are trying to show respect. When you make a really simple request, if it’s just pass the salt add please.

  • Please pass the salt.
  • Could you please pass me the salt?
  • Could you pass the salt, please?

And then of course, when you get the salt, you’d say thank you.

And that person, if they’re showing respect will also say you’re welcome.

These are all really common phrases that are essential if you are trying to show respect to someone in English.


Show respect with your actions

Now if you remember at the beginning of this lesson I said that for English speakers, the way that you show respect is also based on your actions, not just words. So let’s talk about some examples.

1. Be on time. Be punctual.

Do you know that word? Punctual. So if you’re punctual, it means that you’re on time and I know that for many different cultures it’s not really a big deal

if you’re late but in most English-speaking countries, people place a lot of emphasis on being on time. It’s quite disrespectful to be late and to keep someone waiting for you.

So maybe you’re late to work, you’re late for a class. It’s just not that acceptable so you want to try and be on time and if you’re not going to be on time let them know, send a text, an email, make a call and let them know that you’re going to be running late. Five or ten minutes might be ok but anything longer than that and you’re showing disrespect.


2. Listen to people

Another important and respectful action that people in English-speaking countries really value is listening. So if someone is talking and you start checking your phone or doodling on your notepad or talking to a friend, that is being disrespectful and so in this situation, it’s your actions that are speaking much, much louder than words.


3. Don’t push in.

Waiting patiently for your turn is a hallmark of respect in English-speaking cultures. If you push in, you’re sending a big loud message to everyone else who’s waiting that you don’t care about them or how long they’ve been waiting.

Now I know that in some cultures it’s completely acceptable for older people or certain people to move to the front of a line and to kind of jostle in front of someone but this is extremely disrespectful in western cultures. and in English-speaking countries

It is seen as very polite and very respectful to offer your place to someone who needs it but not to push in because you’re older or because you need it. You would always ask politely.


Usually, I have a little challenge at the end for you but for this lesson, I’d like you to share what is respectful and disrespectful in your culture. So down in the comments, can you tell me how you show respect in your native language or culture?

Do you greet or address people differently because of their age or their status? And what actions are seen as disrespectful?

I think it’s fascinating that we all have different ways of showing respect in our different cultures through language or through our actions but it is really important to understand and to learn how to show respect in different cultures and of course, make sure we’re not being disrespectful.


So I hope this video has given you some new ideas about how you can show more respect in English, I’ve given you some great tools to use to greet people respectfully, to address people respectfully or in the right way and showing respect through your actions, the things that you do.

So you know what to do now, you want to take these tools and go out and test them out in the real world.

And if you haven’t checked out these lessons here yet I think you should, you’ll love them.

Have an amazing week and I will see you next time!


Links mentioned in the video

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