Giving orders and instructions

How can you ask someone to do something for you in English without sounding rude? Here are some of the ways that you can give orders and instructions.

1. Use the imperative form

We use the imperative form to give orders, warnings and advice:

Be quiet!
Take care!
Listen to me carefully!

Because it can sound rude to give direct orders (especially if you are talking to an adult), we “soften” the imperative form with “let’s” or “please”:

Let’s go now.
Please listen to what I’m saying.

2. Use a modal verb to turn the order into a request

We use modals to change the mood of a sentence. For example, “You should help her” is more polite than “Help her!”

Other modal verbs you can use to make requests are:

Could: Could you make me some tea?
Can: Can you come here please?
Will: Will you shut the door please?
Would: Would you wait here until the doctor is ready for you?

3. Use an introductory phrase to soften the order

Instead of using an imperative, you can use a phrase instead. Here are some common ways of phrasing an order, in order of the most indirect to the most direct:

Would you mind possibly… (+ ing) (Most indirect)
Would you mind possibly moving your car? It’s parked right in front of mine.

I was hoping you could … (+ infinitive without to)
I was hoping you could spare me a few minutes this morning.

Do you think you could … (+ infinitive without to)
Do you think you could do this photocopying for me?

If you have a couple of minutes spare…
If you have a couple of minutes spare, the office needs tidying up.

I’d like you to…
I’d like you to file this correspondence for me.

I want you to…
I want you to finish this by tomorrow.

4. Use sequencing words

You can use sequencing words to make instructions clear.

Firstly, make sure the appliance is disconnected.
Secondly, open the back with a screwdriver.
Then, carefully pull out the two black cables….