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Making Polite Requests

Asking People What To Do Instead of Telling Them



Quisiera unas manzanas. (I would like some apples.)

Photo by Olle Svensson; licensed via Creative Commons.

Under many circumstances, telling someone what to do can sound rather rude or impolite. So in Spanish, as well as in English, there is a variety of ways of asking people to do something or of making what might be called mellow commands. These are in addition to the impersonal and indirect commands discussed in our lesson on commands and requests.

Following are some of the most common ways of making polite requests in Spanish. Any of these ways will likely be understood wherever you go in the Spanish-speaking world, although usage does vary with region. Listen to those around you to figure out what may be preferred where you are:

Querer: Although it may seem grammatically illogical, the imperfect subjunctive form of querer (usually translated in this context as "I would like"), quisiera, is a common colloquial way of stating wishes and making polite requests. The normal sequence of tenses applies, so when quisiera is followed by a conjugated verb, the following verb must be in an imperfect subjunctive form. Other forms of querer including the present and conditional tenses also can be used in either statement or question form.

  • Quisiera unas manzanas. (I would like some apples.)
  • Quisiera comer ahora. (I would like to eat now.)
  • Quisiera que salieras. (I would like you to leave.)
  • Quiero dos manzanas. (I want two apples.)
  • Quiero comer ahora. (I want to eat now.)
  • Quiero que salgas. (I want you to leave.)
  • ¿Quieres darme dos manzanas? (Do you want to give me two apples?)
  • ¿Querrías darme dos manzanas? (Would you like to give me two apples?)

Gustaríá: The verb gustar (which can be translated literally as "to be pleasing" ) can similarly be used in the conditional form, gustaría, to make gently worded requests.

  • Me gustaría que estudiaras. (I would like you to study.)
  • Me gustarían dos manzanas. (I would like two apples.)
  • ¿Te gustaría darme dos manzanas? (Would you like to give me two apples?)

Poder: This verb meaning "to be able" or the auxiliary verb "can" can be used as a question in the conditional or imperfect indicative tense.

  • ¿Podrías darme dos manzanas? (Could you give me two apples?)
  • ¿Podías darme dos manzanas? (Could you give me two apples?)

A ver: The phrase a ver si, sometimes misspelled as haber si, which is identical in pronunciation, can be used to form the gentlest of requests. Although it is close in meaning to the English "let's see if," it can be translated in a variety of ways.

  • A ver si estudias más. (Perhaps you could study more.)
  • A ver si comamos juntos un día. (Let's eat together some day.)
  • A ver si tocas el piano. (Let's see if you can play the piano.)

Note on "please": The most common ways of saying "please" are the adverbial phrase por favor and the verb phrase hágame el favor de (literally, "do me the favor of"). Although you are unlikely to be criticized for overusing por favor, its usage does vary with region. In some areas its use is expected, while in others it might not commonly be used when asking someone to do something that he or she is expected to do (as when ordering a meal from a waiter). And remember too that tone of voice can have as much to do with how a request is received as its grammatical form can.

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