Asking for Information in English

A waitress talking to a couple at a table.
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Asking for information can be as simple as asking for the time, or as complicated as asking for details about a complicated process. In both cases, it's important to use the appropriate form for the situation. For example, when asking for information from a friend, use a more informal or colloquial form. When asking a colleague, use a slightly more formal form, and when asking for information from a stranger, use an appropriately formal construction.

Very Informal Structures

If you are asking a friend or family member for information, use a direct a question.

Simple Question Structure: Wh? + Helping Verb + Subject + Verb

How much does it cost?
Where does she live?

More Formal Structures

Use these forms for simple, everyday questions in stores, with colleagues at work, and in other informal situations.

Structure: Pardon me / Excuse me + Can / Could you tell me + Wh? + Subject + verb?

Can you tell me when the train arrives?
Pardon me, could you tell me how much the book costs?

Formal and More Complicated Questions

Use these forms when asking complicated questions that require a lot of information. These should also be used when asking questions of important people such as your boss, on a job interview, etc.

Structure: I wonder if you could + tell me/explain/provide information on...

I wonder if you could explain how health insurance is handled at your company.
I wonder if you could provide information on your pricing structure.

Structure: Would you mind + verb + ing 

Would you mind telling me a little bit more about benefits at this company?
Would you mind going over the savings plan again?

Replying to a Request for Information

If you would like to provide information when asked for information, start your reply with one of the following phrases.

Informal

  • Sure.
  • No problem.
  • Let me see.

More Formal

  • I'd be happy to answer that.
  • I should be able to answer your question.
  • It'd be a pleasure to help you.

When providing information people will sometimes also offer to help in other ways. See the example conversations below for an example.

Saying No

If you do not have the answer to a request for information, use one of the phrases below to indicate that you are unable to answer the question. Saying 'no,' is never fun, but sometimes it's necessary. Instead, it's common to offer a suggestion as to where someone might find the information.

Informal

  • Sorry, I can't help you out.
  • Sorry, but I don't know that.
  • That's beyond me, sorry.

More Formal

  • I'm afraid I don't have the answer to that question.
  • I'd like to help you. Unfortunately, I don't have that information / don't know.

Role Play Exercises  

Simple situation:

Brother: When does the movie start?
Sister: I think it's at 8.
Brother: Check, will you?
Sister: You're so lazy. Just a second.
Brother: Thanks sis.
Sister: Yes, it starts at 8. Get off the couch sometimes!

Customer: Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find menswear?
Shop Assistant: Sure. Menswear is on the second floor.
Customer: Oh, also, could you tell me where sheets are.


Shop Assistant: No problem, sheets are on the third floor at the back.
Customer: Thanks for your help.
Shop Assistant: My pleasure.

More complex or formal situation:

Man: Excuse me, would you mind answering some questions?
Business Colleague: I'd be happy to help.
Man: I wonder if you could tell me when the project is going to begin.
Business Colleague: I believe we're beginning the project next month.
Man: and who will be responsible for the project.
Business Colleague: I think Bob Smith is in charge of the project.
Man: OK, finally, would you mind telling me how much the estimated cost will be?
Business Colleague: I'm afraid I can't answer that. Perhaps you should speak with my director.
Man: Thank you. I thought you might say that. I'll speak to Mr. Anders.
Business Colleague: Yes, that would be best for that type of information. Man: Thank you for helping out.


Business Colleague: My pleasure.