Asking for Permission in English

How to Ask for, Grant or Refuse Permission

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Asking for permission to do something takes many different forms. Perhaps you need to get permission to do something at work, or perhaps you need to ask a friend for permission to use one of her possessions, or maybe you need to ask the teacher if you can leave room the for a moment or two. Remember to use polite forms when asking for permission to do something or use an object as you are asking a favor of that person.

Structures Used when Asking for Permission

Can I + verb - VERY INFORMAL

Can I go out tonight?
Can he have dinner with us?

NOTE: The use of "Can I do something?" is very informal, and considered incorrect by many. However, it is used in everyday informal speech and for that reason has been included.

May I + verb

May I have another piece of pie?
May we go out with our friends tonight?

NOTE: Traditionally, the use of "May I do something?" has been used for asking permission. In modern society, this form has become a little more formal and is often replaced with other forms such as "Can I..." and "Could I ..." Many argue that "Can I ..." is incorrect because it refers to ability. However, this form is quite common in everyday situations.

Could I please + verb

Could I please go with Tom to the movie?
Could we please go on trip this weekend?

Do you think I could + verb

Do you think I could use your cell phone?

Do you think I could borrow your car?

Would it be possible for me + infinitive

Would it be possible for me to use your computer for a few minutes?
Would it be possible for to study in this room?

Would you mind if I + verb in past

Would you mind if I stayed a few more minutes?
Would you mind if I took a five minute break?

Would you mind my + verb + ing + your + object

Would you mind my using your cellphone?
Would you mind my playing your piano?

Giving Permission

If you would like to say "yes" to someone who asks permission, you can give permission using these phrases:

No problem.
Go right ahead.
Please feel free + infinitive

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

Refusing a Favor

If you do not want to deny permission, you can these responses:

I'm afraid I'd prefer if you didn't / don't.
Sorry, but I'd rather you not do that.
Unfortunately, I need to say no.
I'm afraid that's not possible.

Saying 'no', is never fun, but sometimes it's necessary. It's common to offer a different solution to try to help out even if you can't give permission.

Example Situations: Asking for Permission Which Is Given

Jack: Hi Sam, do you think I could use your cell phone for a moment?
Sam: Sure, no problem. Here you are.
Jack: Thanks buddy. It will only be a minute or two.
Sam: Take your time. No rush.
Jack: Thanks!

Student: Would it be possible for me to have a few more minutes to review before the quiz?
Teacher: Please feel free to study for a few more minutes.

Student: Thank you very much.
Teacher: No problem. Do you have any questions in particular?
Student: Uh, no. I just need to review things quickly.
Teacher: OK. We'll begin in five minutes.
Student: Thank you.

Example Situations: Asking for Permission Which Is Denied

Employee: Would you mind if I came in late to work tomorrow?
Boss: I'm afraid I'd prefer if you didn't.
Employee: Hmmm. What if I work overtime tonight?
Boss: Well, I really need you for the meeting tomorrow. Is there any way you can do whatever it is you need to do later.
Employee: If you put it that way, I'm sure I can figure something out.
Boss: Thanks, I appreciate it.

Son: Dad, can I go out tonight?
Father: It's a school night! I'm afraid that's not possible.
Son: Dad, all my friends are going to the game!
Father: I'm sorry son. Your grades haven't been the best recently.

I'm going to have to say no.
Son: Ah, Dad, come on! Let me go!
Father: Sorry son, no is no.

Practice Situations

Find a partner and use these suggestions to practice asking for permission, as well as giving and denying permission as shown in the examples. Make sure to vary the language you use when practicing rather than using the same phrase over and over again.

Ask permission to:

  • go out on a weekday evening with friends
  • use someone's car for the day
  • use someone's cell or smart phone
  • take a day or two off work
  • skip school for a day
  • play someone's piano
  • use someone's computer
  • make a copy of an article in a magazine

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