Modal Verbs of Request

Modal verbs of request are used to ask for something (e.g. permission, help, or favour).

Requesting usually involves the use of the specific modal verbs:

  • will
  • can
  • would 
  • could

Let's take a look at these and see how you need to structure them, get the tone right, and respond if someone makes a request to you.

The Structure

Making requests (affirmative questions) with modal verbs involves combining the modal verb with the subject and the base form of the verb.

modal verb + subject + base form

Affirmative Questions

  • Can I borrow your umbrella?
  • Will you help me with this project?
  • Would you come over here?

With modal verbs of request, if you'd like to ask someone NOT to do something, you can place not before the verb to form a negative request. There's a fine line though between these being viewed as requests or commands!

modal verb + subject + not + base form

Negative Requests

  • Could you not talk on your phone during the movie?
  • Will you not disturb me while I am studying, please?
  • Can you not drive so fast? It's dangerous.

Getting the Tone Right


Would and could are more formal than will and can, offering a more polite and respectful tone in requests. 

For instance, a teacher in a classroom requesting a pupil do something is less likely to use a formal tone, as are good friends or family members when requesting things from each other.

But for people who know each other less well or if you want to show respect (e.g. pupil to teachers) then formality is more likely.

Less Formal

  • Can you close the window?
  • Will you please pass the salt?

More Formal

  • Would you mind passing the salt, please?
  • Could you please lend me your notes for the lecture?

Making Requests Polite

The phrase Would you mind + verb-ing is used to make modal verbs of request polite or ask for permission in a more formal way.

Would You Mind + Verb-ing

  • Would you mind opening the window, please?
  • Would you mind not using your phone during the meeting?

Though would and could are generally viewed as more polite, please can be placed after the subject or at the end of the sentence for any of the four modal verbs to change the tone in a positive way.


  • Can you pass me the sugar, please?
  • Will you kindly send me the report, please?
  • Would you please help me with this?
  • Could I please be excused from this activity?

Responding to Requests

When responding to requests, you can answer affirmatively using Yes, I can or Yes, I will. Here are some other possibilities.


  • Yes, of course I can!
  • Sure, happy to help!
  • Absolutely, no problem!
  • Certainly, I'll do that for you.

If you need to decline a request, you can do so with phrases such as those below. These would probably be followed by because as you would likely want to give a reason why.


  • Sorry, but I can't
  • Unfortunately, I'm unable to
  • I would but I just don't have time
  • I've love to but I can't

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