English for Everybody - Intermediate Course
Do you know what this is about?

Instructions and requests.

When you want someone to do something, you use an instruction or a request. Requests are more polite than instructions, but sometimes requests are made using the grammar of instructions, and sometimes instructions are made using the grammar of requests. Finally some requests are made as statements, and these are even more difficult. It is very important to use the right construction when you are speaking to someone. Otherwise you will seem rude or sarcastic.

In this part, we are going to look at

The difference between requests and instructions.

Grammar. An instruction (also called an order or an imperative) is always in the infinitive without "to", so it is rather like a present simple tense. However, the subject of an instruction is always "You", but mostly it is understood, not spoken. Sometimes a vocative (name) is used to show who the instruction is given to.
For example:
"Fred, (you) show me your homework."
Use. Orders demand obedience. Often they are given by important people to less important people. Instructions are given by people showing how to do something. Because English people like to think they are independent, they often get angry with people who give them orders. So usually we use the grammar of requests. However, English people do not mind (and usually obey) written instructions, so you often see these.
For example:
"Click here." (On web pages) "Push / pull" (on doors). "No smoking"
You can get books full of instructions. These are called manuals. You may have one for your computer.

You will hear instructions less often. You might get them at work
For example:
"Come in early for the meeting tomorrow, Bob."
Or from government employees, such as policemen:
For example:
"Step out of your car, sir."
If the person being given the imperative needs to be told who he is, the name is said first or last.
For example:
"Joey, eat your carrots!"
"Be quiet, Susan!"

Grammar. Requests are questions, so they use the grammar of questions (the auxillary is changed with the subject, and the sentence finishes with a question mark). Since the person making the request wants someone to do something, it is polite to ask if they are able to do it. Therefore people making requests often use modals of ability.
For example:
"Can you pass me the salt, please.?"
"May I have the salt??"
To make the request even more polite, a subjunctive may be used (if you are not sure about subjunctives, don't worry - they are like past tenses here.)
For example:
"Could you pass me the salt, please.?"
"Might I have the salt??"
Use We use a request when a person can choose whether or not to do it. English people almost never give orders to strangers. Sometimes a person will make a request instead of giving an order because it is more polite. sometimes even a request is too strong, and we use a suggestion, or an indirect request. Also some requests can be given as instructions to people you know well.
For example:
"Can I see you in my office, Bob?" (instruction as request.)
"Please would you open your suitcase, Madam."(instruction as request.)
"Come to the party tonight. It will be fun."(request as instruction)
"Kiss me, quick!"(request as instruction)
"Why don't you shut up?."(strong instruction as suggestion)
"Would you like to come this way?"(polite request as suggestion)
"Is there any more tea?."(indirect request for tea)
"Have you got any change?"(indirect request for money by beggars)


"Please" is often used with requests or instructions to make them more polite. It is a shorter form of the older expression "If it pleases you". "Please" comes at the beginning or end of a sentence, as with names, but it does not usually come before the name at the beginning or after the name at the end.
For example:
"Samantha, please come here."
"Samantha, come here please."
"Come here please, Samantha."
"Please come here Samantha.
are all different ways of saying the same thing. If it is a boss speaking to his secretary, this would be an instruction. If it is a boy talking to his girlfriend, it is a request.


When talking to people they do not know, or to people they need to be polite to (such as their employers) English people use indirect requests, suggestions or very polite requests.
For example:
"Excuse me, that's my foot." (Translation: Get off my foot. Now!)
" I can't swim." (Translation: Help, I'm drowning!)
" Maybe you should leave now." (Translation: Get out.)
" Perhaps you would like to pay now?" (Translation: Pay.)
" Could you pass me the salt please?"
" May I take this chair, please?"
People in official positions often make polite requests when they are commands.
For example:
"Would you leave now, please Sir?"
"Would you like to explain why you were driving too fast?"
(Notice that the grammar is the same as for offers but the meaning is completely different.)
An official way of giving orders is to use simple or passive future tenses .
For example:
"Male workers will wear ties at all times."
"Female workers are to be properly dressed."
We use the neutral register when talking to people we know casually, perhaps at work. Requests are usually with modals, and sometimes instructions with a preliminary question. If it is likely a request will be refused, it is made as an indirect request
For example:
"Can you pass me that book please Kerry? "
"May I use this now?"
"Would you me a favour Sam? Open the window."
"Would you do something for me? Take this upstairs when you go."
"I wouldn't mind a cup of tea. Is it your turn?"
"Have you finished with that newspaper?"( Translation: Can I read it?)

The informal or casual register is used with people we know well. Requests here are often given as imperatives, or as very simple indirect requests. Imperatives are often very strong, or even threats, and sometimes use question tags. Imperatives are often friendly. For example:
"Give me another cup of tea, love. "
"Pass the ketchup."
"It's too noisy in here."
"It's your turn to buy the drinks."
"Be quiet, will you?"
"Don't ever do that again, or else!
"Come on, you go first."
"Enjoy your food!"

Answering requests and Instructions.

Formal Agreement To show that you are going to do as you have been asked, you should respond. If it is to someone with the right to give you orders, the response can be "Yes," followed by a title. If responding to a request, you can use "certainly", "by all means" or "of course". If you are being asked to stop doing something you shouldn't, you can apologise.
For example:
Come here, please.:
"Yes, Mrs Jones"
(Or for husbands) "Yes, dear."
Can I come past please?:
"Of course, sorry"
"Oh. Yes, by all means. Please do.""
Formal refusal It is not usual to refuse a formal request or instruction. Instead, if you want to say "no" you should ask the reason, or explain why you can't do it, and apologise.
For example:
Come here!:
"What's the matter?"
"Is it very urgent?"
"No, sorry, I can't, I'm on the phone."
"I'm afraid that's impossible, I was told to stay here.."

Informal and casual agreement. With friends and family, responses can be very relaxed. Often people granting a request will use a less formal register to show they are friendly and don't mind doing something.
For example:
Come here!:
It is the same with informal refusals
For example:
"I'm busy",
or even insulting "get lost!"

Okay. Do you understand that? (Question). These's some exercises next.(Indirect Request). Please could you press the blue triangle to go on (Request). Click on "home" to leave. (Instruction).
Let's go!