Unit 30. Can, could, may and would: requests, permission, offers, and invitations


We often use can or could when we ask someone to do something:

Can you wait a moment, please?

Ann, can you do me a favor?

Excuse me. Could you tell me how to get to the bus station?

Do you think you could lend me some money?

I wonder if you could help me.

We also use would to ask someone to do something:
Ann, would you do me a favor?

Would you wait here, please?

To ask for something you can say Can I have… ? / Could I have…? / May I have…?

  • (in a gift shop) Can I have these postcards, please?

  • (at the dinner table) Could I have the salt, please?

    Asking for and giving permission

    We often use can, could, or ma to ask permission to do something:

  • (on the telephone) Hello, can I speak to Tom, please?

  • “Could I use your telephone?” “Yes, of course.”

  • “Do you think I could borrow your bicycle?” “Yes, help yourself.”

  • “May I come in?” “Yes, please do.” To give permission, we use can or may (but not could):

  • You can (or may) smoke if you like.

    We sometimes use can or may when we offer to do things. (May is more formal.):

  • “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” “That’s very nice of you.”

  • (in a store) “May I help you, ma’am?” “No thank you. I’m being helped.”

    For offering and inviting we use Would you like… ? (not do you like):

  • Would you like a cup of coffee? (not do you like)

  • Would you like to go to the movies with us tomorrow evening? (not do you like to come)

    I’d like (= I would like) is a polite way of saying what you want or what you want to do:

  • I’d like some information about hotels, please.

  • I’d like to try on this jacket, please.

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