Using the conditional tense to be gentle
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Perhaps you have noticed that in English it is possible to use the conditional tense in a special way; to say what you want, but gently. It can be used to make a suggestion, or even to give an order, while remaining very polite! This form of speaking is common to all types of English, however, it is more common in the UK, which is famous for its use of polite speech. This article explains how to use the conditional tense to be gentle.
To ask for something
You can use the conditional tense (or mood) to ask for something, such as a favour, or when ordering something in a shop or restaurant. This way of using the conditional tense is common in many languages, including Spanish, however, it is probably more important in English. If you are in a restaurant in England and say I want the mushroom pie, this sounds rude. In this case I’d like the mushroom pie, is not only better, but more correct.
I would like a kilo of tomatoes please
Could you help me, please
What would you like, Madam?
In a similar way to the restaurant example above, a waiter or shopkeeper would never say “What do you want?”.
To offer something
Can I help you? or may I help you? are not actually conditional phrases, however, are used in the same polite way. Using the conditional when offering something looks like this;
Would you like a Martini?
Could I offer you a cup of tea? (very formal)
Could you come this way please?
We could take a walk by the river, if you’d like
To say yes
Using the conditional to speak gently doesn’t stop at asking questions! It can also be used to respond politely.
I would love to!
That sounds great, but could we say at 8PM?
It would be a pleasure!
To say no
Responding negatively using a conditional is very common and makes rejecting an offer sound much nicer. Here are some ways to avoid saying “No. I’m busy.”
I would love to but unfortunately I’m busy tomorrow. Maybe another time?
I’d prefer not to.
Could we try something else?
To make suggestions
Imagine you are in a meeting and your boss has a really terrible idea. This is the perfect moment to use a conditional sentence as a suggestion!
Good idea, but perhaps this would be better…
I would prefer if we used the original design.
I think it would be more appropriate like this…
Make these sentences more polite or gentle by making them conditional.
Note: There is not only one answer. Sometimes you will have to greatly change the sentence to make it conditional.
- I want a glass of wine,
- What do you want?
- Dance with me.
- I think that the green is better.
- Don’t mix the flour with the egg.
- I don’t want to go.
- Let’s meet on Friday instead.
- Sounds good.
- Come with me.
- How do you like your eggs?
Note: If you answer is different to what is below, it may still be correct. If you want to check, then write in the comments section and we will inform you.
- I would like a glass of wine
- What would you like?
- Would you like to dance with me?
- I think that the green would be better.
- You shouldn’t mix the flour with the egg.
- I would prefer not to go
- Could we meet on Friday instead?
- That would be nice.
- Would you like to come with me?
- How would you like your eggs?
If you have different answers, or have any questions about using the conditional to make your sentences more gentle, then let us know in the comments section below.