Ten Ways to Sound More Polite When Speaking English

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Ten Ways to Sound More Polite When Speaking English
Ten Ways to Sound More Polite When Speaking English

Ten Ways to Sound More Polite When Speaking English

Why You Want to Sound More Polite

Have you ever been told that your language is too direct, your tone is too aggressive, or that you sound argumentative in English? To sound more polite in English, there are several strategies you can use to soften your language while still making your meaning clear. Using these strategies can help you sound more tactful and diplomatic if you pay attention to stress and intonation.

1. Use modal verbs

Use modal verbs: could, would, might

Using could, would, and might can help create a little distance between your true, strong opinion and your choice of words to express yourself. Creating distance helps ensure that your listener will be more receptive to what you have to say. Be sure to pay special attention to your tone. When speaking, focus on how you can emphasize the modal verb and its feeling of the possibility of using more expressive, less flat intonation.

You should revise the report.

I don’t agree with that.

We need more time to decide.

They must practice speaking more.

You could revise the report.

I wouldn’t agree with that.

We might need more time to decide.

They could practice speaking more.

Have you ever been told that your language is too direct, your tone is too aggressive, or that you sound argumentative in English? To sound more polite in English, there are several strategies you can use to soften your language while still making your meaning clear. Using these strategies can help you sound more tactful and diplomatic if you pay attention to stress and intonation.

2. Use negative contractions with positive adjectives

A useful technique for sounding more polite and diplomatic is using positive adjectives with the negative contraction (n’t) rather than using the negative adjective. This softens the impact of critical feedback. Even though you are expressing a negative opinion, the use of more positive language helps your listener stay receptive to what you have to say and keeps the lines of communication open.

Use negative contractions with positive adjectives more direct more polite

That’s a horrible idea.

That isn’t a great idea.

That looks ugly.

That doesn’t look attractive.

That’s a waste (bad use) of our time.

That isn’t a good use of our time.

This project will be unsuccessful.

This project won’t be successful.

3. Use “not very”

Combined with the previous strategy, using “not very” enables you to state your honest opinion by distancing yourself from the language that may be received poorly by your listener. Using “not very” with a more positive adjective softens the impact of your clearly stated opinion while still enabling you to give a fair assessment.

Use “not very” more direct more polite

The report was poorly written.

The report wasn’t very well written.

The sales figures are terrible.

The sales figures aren’t very good.

Your timeline is inconvenient for us.

Your timeline isn’t very convenient for us.

I am pessimistic about the outcome.

I’m not very optimistic about the outcome.

4. Use qualifiers

When you give someone feedback that might not be welcome, you can use one of the following qualifiers to reduce the critical impact of your words.  Using qualifiers before the noun or adjective enables you to sound more diplomatic. The advantage of using qualifiers to state your opinion is that you’re still clear about what the problem is, but the qualifier shows that it is something that can be fixed or adjusted without extreme effort.

5. Use comparatives (-er, less, more)

When you need to state your opinion clearly, but you want to make the other person feel like his or her desires are also being considered, use comparatives in order to present your idea as a suggestion rather than a requirement. You can combine this strategy with the others we have already looked at to create more distance from your request.

Use comparatives more direct more polite

3 PM is best for me.

3 PM is better for me.

It is foolish to miss this opportunity.

It is wiser to take this opportunity.

That option is way too expensive.

This option is less expensive.

We need to see the research before We need to see more research deciding.

before deciding.

6. Present your idea as a question

Like the last strategy, presenting your opinion, idea, or request as a question can make the other person feel like his or her perspective is being considered. By asking a question that includes your preference, you are showing that you are open to negotiation, but you’ve already suggested what works best for you.

Present your idea as a question more direct more polite

3 PM works for us.

Does 3 PM work for you?

We need to meet again soon.

Can we meet again soon?

We should reschedule the meeting.

Should we reschedule the meeting?

Revise the offer.

Could you revise the offer?

7. Present your idea as a negative question

Presenting your idea as a negative question combines the previous strategies to enable you to create more distance between you and your request. Softening your language in this way helps you sound more tactful and diplomatic while leading the other person right to where you want them to be.

Present your idea as a negative question

We should reschedule the Shouldn’t we reschedule the meeting?

Revise the offer.

Couldn’t you revise the offer?

Friday is too late.

Isn’t Friday too late?

I would like some more time to Wouldn’t you like some more time considering.     to consider?

8. Present your idea as an indirect question

You can make questions even more polite by presenting them as indirect or embedded questions. Indirect questions create distance from what you want or need from the other person, which makes requests more polite, observations less confrontational, and suggestions more of a strong nudge than criticism. Since these questions include more hesitation and distance in the way they are formed, they are considered extra polite.

Present your idea as an indirect question

We should reschedule the meeting.

Have you decided yet?

Isn’t Friday too late?

I wanted to know if we can reschedule the meeting.

I was wondering if you’ve decided yet.

I’m not sure if Friday is too late.

I want more time to think about it.

I was thinking that we’d want more time to think about it.

9. Use past and past continuous expressions

These special expressions show consideration of the other person’s feelings and demonstrate our own flexibility. Placing our opinions in the past suggests that this desire was just a passing thought, not an urgent request or demand; this gives the other person space to respond without regret. Native speakers don’t actually hear the past tense when you use these expressions; instead, they hear the polite distancing of the request. They understand that your request is current.

What time is your appointment?

Are you going to accept the job?

We already discussed your proposal.

I want to make pizza for dinner.

I wanted to check what time your appointment is.

We were hoping that you’re going to accept the job.

We were discussing your proposal.

I was considering making pizza for dinner.

10. Use the plural “we” instead of “I” or “you”

As you have noticed from the previous strategies, sounding more polite involves being inclusive and involving the other person’s feelings and perspective in the way you present your feedback, opinion, suggestion, or request. To make this inclusiveness even more explicit, you can use the plural “we” instead of presenting your idea with “I” or “you.” This indicates that you are considering the other person as much as yourself.

I need to cancel the meeting.

You should take some time to think about it.

I have several suggestions.

You should be more positive.

more polite

We need to cancel the meeting.

We should take some time to think about it.

We have some suggestions.

We should be more positive.

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