Asking for Things

How to Ask for Something in English

Phrases for how to ask for something. Getty Images

Do you know how to ask for something in English? I'm sure you do. However, you might have some questions about which forms are more than polite than others. This guide on how to ask for something in English provides both direct and indirect forms for asking politely. 

Every English learner needs to know how to ask for something in English. There are a number of ways to do this. If you know that someone has something, you can ask for something directly with a polite question.

If you don't know, it's possible to ask for something with a yes/no question. Be careful to not use the imperative form to ask for things. In other words, don't say "Give me that", but ask kindly as shown in the following examples:

Do you have a pen I could borrow?

Is there any wine?

Did you buy any bread?

If you know or can see that someone has something, ask a polite question with "could," or "may." It's also possible to use 'can' in more informal situations. In the past, "can" was not used when asking for something, but only to refer to ability. In the United Kingdom, Cambridge University publishes English teaching materials with the phrase "Can you lend me," "Can I have," etc. In the United States, this form is still considered to be incorrect and "May I have" is preferred.

It's common to ask for things using yes/no polite phrases with "Could you" and verbs such as "lend," "hand," and "give." Here are a number of phrases you can use to ask for something in English:

May I borrow a..., please?

Could you lend me a..., please?

May I have a / some..., please?

Could you hand me that / some..., please?

And here are a few more using "can," which is not considered correct by all teachers, but accepted in the UK and British English:

Can I borrow a / some..., please?

Can you lend me that / some..., please?

Note that in English, you do not begin a sentence with "please," but you can add "please" at the end of the sentence to be polite.

Incorrect: Please give me a pen.

Correct: Could you give me a pen, please?

'Could You' Example Dialogues 

Person 1: Could you hand me that magazine?​

Person 2: Certainly, here it is.

Person 1: Could you lend me a few dollars for lunch, please?​

Person 2: I'd be happy to do that. How much do you need?

'Could I' Example Dialogues 

You can also ask for things using "Could I" with verbs such as "borrow," "have," and "use."

Person 1: Could I borrow your pen, please?​

Person 2: Certainly, here you are.

Person 1: Could I use that book?​

Person 2: The red one, or the blue one?​

Person 1: The blue one. Thank you.

Indirect Questions

It's also possible to ask for things more politely by using an indirect question. Indirect questions are often used in formal settings, or when speaking to strangers. They're also a little more difficult grammatically. Indirect questions begin with a phrase such as "Do you think," "I wonder," "Would it be alright if," etc.

Example Indirect Dialogues

Person 1: Would you mind loaning me your pen?​

Person 2: Certainly, here you are.

Person 1: I wonder if you could help me with this problem?​

Person 2: I'd be happy to do that. What seems to be the problem?

Special Note on Using Borrow/Lend

Remember that when you ask for something in English it's possible to borrow that item from someone. Someone lends the item to you.

  • Borrow = give to someone to use
  • Lend = take from someone to use
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Asking for Things." ThoughtCo, Jan. 31, 2018, thoughtco.com/asking-for-things-1212033. Beare, Kenneth. (2018, January 31). Asking for Things. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/asking-for-things-1212033 Beare, Kenneth. "Asking for Things." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/asking-for-things-1212033 (accessed April 26, 2018).