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  1. ESL Conversation worksheet: Imperatives vs Polite Requests in the Workplace

    August 4, 2008 by User ImageEric Roth
    Eric Roth

    Workplace Communication Tip 3: Politely Make Suggestions

    Style matters – especially when we talk with our co-workers, consumers, patients, and supervisors. English language learners, immigrants, and far too many English speaking workers sometimes forget this basic principle of workplace communication.

    Consider the difference in how these requests sound.

    Shut off the TV!

    Please turn off the TV?

    Could you turn off the TV?

    Would you please turn off the TV?

    Close the door!

    Shut the damn door!

    Close the door; I need some privacy.

    Would you please close the door; we can’t hear ourselves talk.

    Could you get the door?

    Can you close the door?

    Sometimes, especially in an emergency, it is appropriate to warn other people with a short command.

    Call the police!


    Shut the door!

    Volume, tone, and context help us recognize an emergency. Imperatives, or short command sentences, are powerful communication tools in these situations. The speaker gives an order; we listen.

    I. When would it be appropriate to give a warning on your job? Please give 3 examples.




    But, usually, we also make our requests that are not emergencies. We can – and should- give suggestions in a kinder, gentler way. Unfortunately, too many people pretend that everything that annoys them is an emergency and speak in a rude, impolite way to co-workers. This sort of harsh speech can even be abusive.

    We can, however, use many words to make quick requests and polite suggestions:

    May Can Could Would Should Might

    II. Please write a request that you might give or hear at work with these words.

    1. Can ______________________________________________?
    2. May ______________________________________________?
    3. Could _____________________________________________?
    4. Would_____________________________________________?
    5. Should_____________________________________________?
    6. Might _____________________________________________?

    Adding the word “please” makes your requests and suggestions sound nicer too!

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