Modals part Five

Skill: Grammar  

Category: General English & Academic English

Level: Upper-Intermediate


Part Five

Using modals to express request and give response

Use may, could and can with the subject “I” to request permission. May is more formal than can and could.


a) May I talk to you in your spare time (please)?

b) Could I (please) talk to you in your spare time?

c) Can I talk to you in your spare time?

Note. In sentence (b) could is used in a polite request form and it has a present or future meaning, not a past.


There are different ways of giving responses to a polite request. Some prefer to use actions like nod, shake head or saying “uh-huh” meaning “yes” to respond to a polite request while others prefer to use the following words and phrases.

            Certainly.                    Yes, certainly

            Of course.                   Yes, of course

            Yes, you may.             Yes, you can

            Sure (informal)

Use would, could, will and can with the subject “you”


a) Would you do me a favor (please)? 

b) Will you (please) do me a favor?

Note. Would you and will you are commonly used in spoken English as polite requests. Would is considered to be more polite than will.

c) Could you do me a favor (please)?

Generally, would and could have the same meaning and they have the same degree of politeness.

            would you = do you want to do this please?

            Could you = do you want to do this please and is it possible for you to do this please?

d)  can you do me a favor (please)?

Can you is used informally and it is less polite than would you or could you.


  1. Positive response:

Yes, I would.

Yes, I would be happy to …

Yes, I would be glad to …

  • Negative response:

I would like to, but … (I would like to but I need to leave now)

Exercise. Respond for the following situations using WOULD or COULD

  1. You and I are close friends and you are in my apartment. You want to use my cell phone to call your father.
  2. I am your teacher and you want to quit the class earlier today.
  3. I am the salesperson in a store and you have returned the blouse which you bought from this store a week ago because it doesn’t fit you. You want me to change it for you.

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