Asking for Information in English

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 an appropriate form to the situation. For example, when asking for information from a friend, use a more informal form. When asking a colleague, use a slightly more formal form. Finally, when asking for information from a stranger, use an appropriately formal construction.

Structures Used when Asking for Information

Very Informal - for Friends and Family

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

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

How much does it cost?
Where does she live?

More Formal for Everyday Simple Questions

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

(Pardon me, Excuse me) Can / could you tell me + wh? + S + verb?

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

Formal for More Complicated Questions and Asking Important People Questions

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

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.

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.

Informal

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

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.

Saying 'no', is never fun, but sometimes it's necessary. It's common to offer a suggestion as to where someone might find out the information required.

Example Situations

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 / 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.

Ask for information about ...

  • a subject you are studying at school
  • a new product in a store
  • a friend who you haven't seen for a long time
  • what someone wants for a birthday
  • how to do something you don't understand
  • vacation spots
  • how to cook something
  • using a computer program
More English Functions

 

Giving and Receiving Presents
Asking for Information
Expressing Sadness
Asking for Permission
Asking for a Favor
Disagreeing
Contrasting Ideas
Making Complaints
Giving Advice
Guessing
Being Imprecise or Vague
Saying 'No' Nicely
Showing Preferences
Making Suggestions
Offering Help
Giving Warning
Disagreeing
Contrasting Ideas
Making Complaints
Asking for Information
Giving Advice
Guessing
Being Imprecise or Vague
Saying 'No' Nicely
Showing Preferences
Making Suggestions
Offering Help
Giving Warning
Demanding Explanations