In this lesson, you will learn several methods to politely ask for permission in English.
May I .. ?
“May I” is the most correct way to ask for permission in traditional English.
“May I” + base form of verb
May I have a cup of coffee?
May I sit here?
May I go to the toilet?
However, “may” is quite formal. In modern English, people often use the following structures:
Can I .. ?
In theory, in strict English, we do NOT use “can” for permission. The normal use of “can” is to describe ability and opportunity:
I can speak French.
We can travel on the bus when we visit London.
In modern English, it is very common to use “can” to ask for permission, particularly in spoken English.
“Can I” + base form of verb
Can I have a slice of cake?
Can I go to the park with my friends?
“Can I” is informal.
“Could I” is more formal.
Could I .. ?
“Could I” is more formal than “Can I”.
“Could I” + base form of verb
Could I borrow your pen?
It’s hot in here. Could I open the window?
Do you mind if .. ?
“Do you mind if?” means “Does it bother you if… ?” or “Is it a problem if…?”
“Do you mind if” + present simple
Mark: Where are you going?
David: I’m going to the pub for a drink.
Mark: Do you mind if I join you?
Jane: I’m going home. See you tomorrow.
Mark: Do you mind if I call you later?
Is it alright if .. ?
This is very similar to “Do you mind if..?”. It’s another way of asking the same question. This is common in informal spoken English.
“Is it alright if” + present simple
Jane: Are you coming to my party tomorrow?
Sarah: Yes. Is it alright if I bring a friend?
We can also say “ok” instead of “alright”.
“Is it ok if” + present simple
Manager: Have you finished the reports?
David: No, not yet. Is it ok if I finish them tomorrow?
This is common in spoken English. “ok” is an abbreviation for “okay”.
How to give permission to someone
Here are several ways to say “yes” when someone asks us for permission to do something:
Mark: May I borrow these reports?
Manager: Sure, no problem.
Manager: Of course, go ahead.
Jane: Can I take your photograph?
Sarah: Yes, that’s fine by me.
Sarah: Yes of course you can.
Sarah: Yes, feel free.
How to give permission reluctantly
“reluctantly” means that we do something that we don’t want to do. Giving permission reluctantly means that we say “yes” but in fact we would prefer to say “no”.
Jane: May I leave the office early today?
Manager: Yes, I suppose so.
Manager: Yes, if you must.
How to say no politely
How can we say no to someone or refuse them something politely without offending them or being rude?
Here are some phrases:
Mark: May I smoke in here?
Manager: I’m afraid that’s not possible.
Manager: I’m terribly sorry but the answer is no.
Manager: I’m going to have to say no. Sorry.
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