Words, Language, and Requests

The English language is a wonderful thing. If you use words, properly, you can convey any thought you have.  If, however, you use words incorrectly, you will be condemning yourself to a lifetime of misery – and never know why.

Every day, people will ask questions that don’t actually mean what they think:

‘Do you have the right time?’

This is a question that should only be answered with ‘yes’, or ‘no’.

The question people think they are asking is ‘can you tell me the right time?’  The answer to this, of course, is exactly the same.

The question people should ask is ‘what is the right time, please?’

This misunderstanding is exacerbated when you want something tangible. Here are a few examples of the same ‘question’ – with appropriate responses:

‘Question’                                           Response

‘I’d love a cup of tea…’                          ‘Oooh, me too…’

‘Any chance of a cup of tea?’                ‘Probably – the kettle is right there, and cafes do exist…’

‘Would you make me a cup of tea?’       ‘Maybe, if you asked.’

‘Can you make a cup of tea?’                ‘It is one of my abilities, yes.’

The common theme here is that none of these is actually asking anybody to make a cup of tea.  The first is simply a statement of opinion; the second is a question about probability; the third is attempting to find out what the answer is before you ask it, and the fourth is simply asking if the responder can make a cup of tea.

‘Will you make me a cup of tea, please’ is, actually, the most direct and grammatically correct way of asking the question – any other phrasing (or variation of the examples above) relies on the person being asked guessing what question you meant to ask, or reading your mind.

Now, you can live with others guessing what you want – assuming they get it right, every time (and just imagine what could go wrong if your doctor guesses whether you want your leg amputated) – or you can say what you want.

Guess which one will succeed more often!

So, how do you do it?

Step 1.

Work out what it is that you actually want.

Step 2.

Ask for it.

That’s it. Simple.


Oh… You want more.

Step 1 (revisited).

Work out what you want. If you want somebody to make you a cup of tea, then you should be asking them to make you a cup of tea.  If you want to know if they can make a cup of tea, then that is what to ask them…

If you want your partner to take you to a nearby town, so you can visit a shop, then what you should be asking, obviously, is if they would be willing to take you to a nearby town.  Asking if they were planning to do something that you wanted to do, in the forlorn hope that they had correctly interpreted some random comment made hours earlier and had immediately arranged the universe around your wishes without your needing to actually ask for it, so you can accept the offer without needing to feel grateful…. (Wow, long sentence…)

Stating that you want to go to M&S, in the hope that the listener will think ‘oh, I must immediately make plans to take them there’ ignores a very basic alternative which could easily be the listeners guess – i.e. You could mean that you were planning to go alone, on the bus, and meet a friend.

Until the point at which you ask ‘were you planning to take me?’ both options were equally valid – as were, potentially, dozens more, to a greater or lesser degree.


Use the fewest words possible to encapsulate what you want, in the form of a request. But ensure you actually state exactly what it is you want.

Step 2 (revisited).

Ask for it.

That is, ask for what it is you actually want.

Say, ‘will you make me a cup of tea?’ if a cup of tea is what you want.   Note, there is no ‘please’ in there.  A ‘please’ would be nice, but it’s not essential.

Or. If you want to be taken somewhere, as in Step 1, ask for that:

‘Will you take me to the M&S store in [insert town here] tomorrow, please.’  THAT IS ALL YOU NEED.

Work out what you want, and ask for it. Don’t expect others to guess what you want; don’t ask if they were planning to fit in with your plans without even the pretence of a request; don’t try to come up with some clever way of planting a seed in somebody’s head in the hope that it takes root, grows, and bears the fruit you want it to bear.

All of those leave far too much room for error. All of those require the person you ask to do some ‘working out’ – and if you rely on others to work things out, they’ll get it wrong.

If you ask for what you want, the possible answers are ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘can we discuss this.’

(‘Can we discuss this’ covers ‘would another town/day/store be okay?’, ‘do you really need to go?’, and ‘How much?!’)

Dropping a hint, waiting a while, and then asking, will damage your case, of course. What you are actually saying, then, is ‘You were obviously too stupid to guess correctly what I wanted, so I’m going to give you another hint.’

Telling somebody you would like to go somewhere, then asking if they were planning to take you? In what reality would anybody answer ‘yes’ to that?

I’d like to go on a cruise of the Norwegian Fjords, are you planning to take me?

I’d like to travel across America on a motorbike, are you planning to take me?

I’d like to walk along the river tomorrow, are you planning to go with me?

The answer to all of those has to be the same: “Until you asked, the thought never entered my head!  Now, I need time to actually think about it, while feeling ambushed by the unexpected demand.”

Ask for what you want. I guarantee you will notice an increase in the number of ‘yes’ answers you get – if only because the person you ask will know what you are asking for, so they don’t guess wrong.

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