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Life skills tip of the week: ways of asking and giving permission

Express-Yourself-MEDO-Web-232x300pxAs part of this year’s pragmatics series, we bring more useful content and tips from the Macmillan Dictionary on expressing yourself.

The previous language tip looked at some of the ways of expressing approval and disapproval.

This week’s tip, which is the last in the series, looks at ways of asking and giving permission.

Can I…? the most usual and general way of asking permission:
Can I take your car to work tomorrow?

May I…a more formal and polite way of asking permission:
May I use the phone?

Would it be all right if/Is it all right if/Do you mind if… ? used when asking permission, for showing you do not want to interrupt or annoy someone:
Would it be all right if I turned the radio off?
Do you mind if I open a window?

You can: the most usual and general way of giving permission:
You can take the big bag as well if you like.

By all means/Of course/Certainly: a more formal and polite way of giving permission:
‘Do you mind if I bring my bike inside?’ ‘Of course you can/By all means, there’s plenty of space.’

I don’t see why not: used for saying yes when someone asks your permission to do something:
‘Could I stay the night at Ann’s?’ ‘I don’t see why not, so long as you’re home before lunch tomorrow.’

Go ahead/Feel free/Be my guest:  used informally for making someone feel comfortable about doing something:
Is it all right if I take a bath?’ ‘Sure, go ahead/feel free. I’ll get you a towel.’

Help yourself:  used informally for giving someone permission to have, do or use something:
Do you mind if I use the phone?’ ‘Help yourself.’

If you (really) must:  used for giving someone permission to do something, even though you do not really want them to do it:
‘Is it all right if I invite Bob to the party?’ ‘If you must, but you know I don’t like him.’

Would you like to learn more about pragmatics? Keep a close eye on our pragmatics page where the eleventh of our life skills lesson plans was published recently. For more information about Life Skills, visit the Macmillan Life Skills page.

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About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • This is a useful list of requests for permission and positive responses. But asking is not the only way to do this, and in some cases, not the best or easiest way.

    One very common way of asking for permission, or asking for something, is simply to state the need or the problem: “It’s dark in here.” “Oh no, I forgot my money!”, or “I wonder if I could have a bath.”
    These may be said almost as if you are talking to yourself, and work as a prompt for people to offer help or give permission. They are often the easiest way to get the response you need. Imagine, for example, how difficult it might be otherwise to ask to borrow money from a classmate or colleague to pay for lunch!

    In pragmatics, it’s worth remembering that in real life requests are very often not shaped like requests!

  • Thanks Jim (and hello!). Yes, of course you are correct. These little posts are just a way of sharing some of the information contained in Macmillan Dictionary about how to do different things with the language. And pragmatics, as you point out, is a vast, complex and nuanced area of language use. I hope we can do more to explore this in the future. And meanwhile Happy New Year!

  • Thanks for the response, Liz. I realize space is limited, and I’ll be very glad to share the examples you provide with my students… (together with what I’ve written!) so thank you. And hello and Happy New Year to you, too 🙂

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