Is it standard to add "please" after a question?

19

1

I was in a conversation with a client who asked me, "How are you?" I responded with "I am fine, thank you." I then followed up with, "How are you? Please."

My manager asks why I append "please" and says it is not standard. Is she correct or is it OK to use please after my question?

Khairul

Posted 2015-11-25T14:13:01.770

Reputation:

13No it is not standard. "How are you?" is standard. – Brandin – 2015-11-25T14:29:22.527

3The "please" part would not be standard in US English. It might be different in your locale. – None – 2015-11-25T14:39:37.670

3It wouldn't be standard in the UK either. – None – 2015-11-25T16:17:05.827

1If somebody asks you, "How are you?" the common reply (to ask the same question back to that somebody and after answering the "How are you?" question) is "What about you?" or simply "You?" (with rising intonation) – shin – 2015-11-25T16:51:55.887

1Saying "Please" would work if you're inviting the other person to do something or to say something. For example, suppose you're both about to enter a building. As you approach you ask your colleague "How are you?". Before she has a chance to respond, you open the door and stand to the side to let your colleague in. Then you say "Please." to indicate that you are inviting your colleague to go in first. - So that's a long example description but the actual words spoken would simply be "How are you? Please." – Brandin – 2015-11-25T16:58:24.203

3Is it standard to add “please” after a question, please? (just kidding) – wythagoras – 2015-11-25T17:28:03.017

1@shin I think you meant "How about you?" rather than "What about you?" – None – 2015-11-25T18:39:44.773

1While I agree it's not standard, if I had been the one on the other end of the phone, I wouldn't have been offended. Especially if your accent was noticeably foreign, I would assume you were merely being polite in a non-standard way. Trying to speak the local language like the locals is good, but I wouldn't worry very much about mistakes like this since it's not wrong so much as odd. – MichaelS – 2015-11-26T06:24:49.090

@wythagoras - I was so tempted to suggest that as an edit to this question! – AndyT – 2015-11-26T15:47:43.423

Answers

54

As a native speaker of Northeastern US English, I would normally only add please after a question if I was asking for a specific favor or for an object from the person I am questioning.

For example:

  • Can you pass me that wrench, please?

  • Could you let me know when he arrives, please?

But it is not used when asking simple factual questions, matters of opinion, or idiomatic phrases:

  • Has he arrived yet, please?

  • Do you like those new tools, please?

  • How are you, please?

To put it briefly, "please" is used when one asks a question which solicits a favor. In the questions that have been struck out, one solicits a piece of information (and not a favor).

stangdon

Posted 2015-11-25T14:13:01.770

Reputation: 25 636

1Good answer. I would add that if you are making a request for an action, which is itself the providing of information, that you can say please. For example, perhaps someone you've asked "What did she say?" refuses to answer. Then you could say "Please tell me what she said!" But your distinction holds: now you are asking for an action, not merely the information (even though in effect they are asking for the same thing). – ErikE – 2015-11-25T19:46:12.320

2Oh, but "What time is it, please?" is a violation of your suggested rule, though it is actually shorthand for "Would you please tell me what time it is?" – ErikE – 2015-11-25T19:47:40.503

2@ErikE - That's a good observation, although I don't feel like I actually hear people say "please" with that very often these days. – stangdon – 2015-11-25T19:53:07.457

3"Which way is it to the train station, please?" is another counter-example. I think the difference might be when you are querying for personal knowledge (especially about a person's own internal state) vs. external knowledge. But then, "Are you mad at me" and "Is he mad at me?" also don't take "please", so I think it will take more examination to get this right. – ErikE – 2015-11-25T19:56:38.353

1Also, adding please to a request can signal impatience. Are there any seats available on the Miami flight? / Oh, Miami's lovely this time of year. / Yes, but are there any seats, please? Boarding is starting in five minutes. – choster – 2015-11-26T00:56:54.870

6tldr; add please when requesting something. – None – 2015-11-26T06:04:12.860

@ErikE Your counterexamples of asking for the time or directions to the train station sound odd to me. I'm just a native English speaker who grew up in the Northeast, so it may very well be a regional variation I'm unfamiliar with. – Mark S. – 2015-11-26T18:18:04.067

@MarkS. I'm a native English speaker from California. – ErikE – 2015-11-26T18:30:30.803

@ErikE: I would say that "What time is it, please" is shorthand for "Would you please do me the favor of telling me what time it is?". The long version is overly formal, and imputes a degree of imposition that is seldom the case. – jmoreno – 2015-11-28T06:25:03.407

@jmoreno That's very close to what I said. Are you differentiating your exact wording from mine, or did you not see my comment? – ErikE – 2015-11-28T08:12:08.290

@ErikE: I was responding to your ćomment. To put it another way, the sentence fragment "Please do me the favor of" is usually shortened to just "please". – jmoreno – 2015-11-28T15:25:58.707

which means the exceptions aren't really exceptions. Asking for a favor implies a tit for tat arrangement. Asking someone to do you a favor and tell you if they are mad at you, is likely to be either unnecessary or useless. – jmoreno – 2015-11-28T16:50:35.350

23

Please is for requests

Please could you pass me that pencil?

Or

Could you get the door for me, please?

Although note that both of these would be valid, if potentially impolite, without the "please".

Not for questions

How are you?

Or

Did your children enjoy your trip on the steam train?

Jon Story

Posted 2015-11-25T14:13:01.770

Reputation: 2 164

4I think the please serves more than to merely make those sentences more polite. "could you pass me that pencil" alone is not entirely clear if it is a question regarding the persons ability to pass you the pencil or a request to do so. The please disambiguates this as a request. – Vality – 2015-11-25T17:47:06.953

5@Vality I would never think that "Could you pass me that pencil?" meant "Are you able to pass me that pencil?". It is merely a request for a pencil, no more, no less. – D_Bester – 2015-11-25T18:01:47.607

@vality I disagree - you're transposing 'are you able to' onto the request. The two are not analogous: admittedly 'can you' it is sometimes used that way colloquially but never when ambiguous. Eg 'can you reach the ceiling?' Is clearly a question. 'Can you reach the cans on the top shelf for me?' Is clearly a request. Why would you ever ask if someone is physically able to pass you a pencil? Of course 'no, I have my hands full' is an acceptable answer to the request, but that doesn't make the original request into a simple question. – Jon Story – 2015-11-25T18:10:31.210

3This is a common joke enjoyed by children (or, alternately, to annoy children): When someone says "Could you pass the salt?", you say "Yes, I could!". It's not really ambiguous — it's very clear to everyone that this is a request to actually perform the action — but it's (depending on your taste in humor) humorous to pretend otherwise. – mattdm – 2015-11-25T19:27:20.130

3Exactly, the request isn't ambiguous, it's just a dad joke. – Jon Story – 2015-11-25T19:36:21.570

@JonStory Except when it isn't. Some language purists do take the use of "could"/"would" and "can"/"will" quite literally. Most of my English teachers were of this variety. They are fortunately rare, but saying they don't exist would be misleading to someone learning English as a non-native language. – phyrfox – 2015-11-27T08:03:04.933

I suspect they were being purists while teaching but it's unlikely they carried that over into their personal lives – Jon Story – 2015-11-27T09:33:52.413

9

Please goes with a request—not with a question—but there are some gray areas.

One common case where "please" often follows a question is when an employee begins to ask a customer a series of personal questions. In this case, I think there is an implied request for the customer to provide personal information in this new phase of the interaction:

Employee: How can we help you today?
Customer: I'd like to open an account.
Employee: Wonderful! I'd be happy to open an account for you. What is your name, please?
Customer: John Doe
Employee: And your home address?

Paul Dexter

Posted 2015-11-25T14:13:01.770

Reputation: 1 986

"What is your name?" is really equivalent to "Please can you tell me your name" - the context makes it a request, even if the phrasing is somewhat question-like: it's understood that the cashier/advisor isn't randomly asking the question for their own interest, and it's really a prompt/request for the next piece of information on the form. – Jon Story – 2015-11-26T11:03:13.450

0

In most of the US it is not standard to add 'please' at the end of a question. There are some portions of the Midwest, particularly parts of Ohio, where this is standard practice.

user3918295

Posted 2015-11-25T14:13:01.770

Reputation: 1

Whoah, really? I'm curious -- what parts of Ohio, and just how standard is it? – jme – 2015-11-26T16:19:01.453

0

It is not required to say "please" after a question unless it is an imperative sentence. However, I think "please" is polite

Major Tom

Posted 2015-11-25T14:13:01.770

Reputation: 227