Polite Requests Using Verb + Infinitive

You've already seen the formula verb + infinitive in action in several different contexts. You've used ir + a+ infinitive to express the future; you've used gustar + infinitive to say what you like to do; and you've used impersonal expressions with infinitives to give indirect recommendations. You can also use certain verbs with infinitives to make polite requests in Spanish. One of the most common of these combinations is poder + infinitive. When phrased as a question like ¿Puede ayudarme? (Can you help me?), this formula yields a polite request. Add por favor to the beginning or end, and your wish will be their command!

Por favor, ¿puede ayudarme?

¿Puede ayudarme, por favor?

Though this sort of request is phrased as a yes-or-no question, you aren't really seeking a yes-or-no answer. This is just a polite way of asking someone to do something for you. Let's look at a few more verb + infinitive combinations for making polite requests.

  • querer: ¿Quiere decirme dónde está el jefe?

    (Do you want to tell me where the boss is?)

  • permitir: ¿Me permites pasar, por favor?

    (Will you let me by, please?)

  • hacer el favor de: ¿Nos hace el favor de llamar antes de venir?

    (Will you do us the favor of calling before you come?)

  • Of course, tone is a critical element in making polite requests. These same phrases can sound quite obnoxious if you use a demanding tone. Be careful of your intonation to ensure that your request is received as you intended.

    Another Polite Request Strategy

    Another very common way to make requests politely is to phrase them as simple questions. Instead of telling your colleague to send a fax for you, for example, you can soften the command by saying: ¿Me mandas este fax, por favor? (Will you send this fax for me please?). You're really using the same strategy as the verb + infinitive combination but simplifying the grammar. This is a very common approach in many contexts in which a command form would be too imperious and the verb + infinitive combinations a bit too lengthy. The simple question is direct but polite because it is still a request rather than a command. Notice that, although the English translation uses “will,” you are not using the future tense in Spanish. These requests are always made with the simple present.

    When making a request, be careful to conjugate the verb appropriately. If you are making a request of someone you don't know well, use the usted form. When you make requests of friends, use tú, vosotros, or ustedes. Remember that the second verb is always in the infinitive.

    Polite requests are always appropriate, but particularly so in more formal situations, for example, when you are speaking with someone you don't know well. They are especially appropriate between an employer and employee because they maintain a tone of respect even though one person is telling the other what to do.

    Polite Requests

    TRACK 43

    Let's imagine a parent giving instructions to a babysitter, a middle-aged woman named Elena. Listen to each example as you follow along in the text. Then repeat each polite request after you hear it. Pay close attention to intonation.

    Elena, ¿nos hace el favor de preparar algo para cenar?

    (Elena, will you do us the favor of preparing something for dinner?)

    Elena, ¿puede bañar a Susanita después de cenar, por favor?

    (Elena, can you bathe Susanita after eating, please?)

    Elena, ¿quiere leer un cuento a Susanita cuando se acueste?

    (Elena, do you want to read Susanita a story when she goes to bed?)

    Elena, ¿nos llama si tiene una pregunta, por favor?

    (Elena, will you call us if you have a question, please?)

    Notice that the requests all use the usted form to show respect for Elena's age. The parents could also show respect by addressing the sitter as señora Elena or señora + Elena's last name. If the sitter were a teenager, the form would be perfectly appropriate as would the use of first names.

    Responding to Polite Requests

    So, how does one respond to a polite request? Of course, most responses will be in the affirmative, but you might have to say “no” in a polite manner. A simple or no just won't do. Let's look at a few examples of affirmative and negative responses that will maintain the appropriately polite tone.

    Affirmative Responses

  • Sí, con mucho gusto.

    (Yes, with pleasure.)

  • Por supuesto.

    (Of course.)

  • Como no.

  • (Certainly.)

    Negative Responses

  • Lo siento, no puedo.

    (I'm sorry, I can't.)

  • Lamentablemente, no tengo tiempo.

    (Unfortunately, I don't have time.)

  • Me gustaría ayudar, pero no puedo.

    (I'd like to help, but I can't.)

  • The affirmative responses are pretty straightforward. All you need to do is say and add an appropriately enthusiastic phrase. To soften the blow of a negative response, though, it is best to include lo siento and some sort of reason for your inability to carry out the request.

    Practice: Polite Requests and Responses

    Shall we try out some of these strategies? Use the cues to write polite requests and responses. The check your answers with the models in Appendix D.

    • ¿poder / usted / llamar mañana / por favor?

    • por supuesto / llamar mañana / con mucho gusto

    • ¿querer / tú / explicarme / cómo funciona esto?

    • lo siento / no sé / preguntar a Melena

    • ¿hacerme el favor de / usted / mandar este paquete?

    • cómo no / con mucho gusto

    • ¿por favor / avisarme / tú / cuando llegue / el señor Gallardo?

    • no poder / yo / salir temprano / tengo cita con el médico

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