Get tips on how to ask people for help or directions in a polite way in English. You can learn good grammar and vocabulary to use in many situations.
Have you ever needed to ask for help from someone but been too nervous to talk to someone you don’t know?
This week on our instagram account @learnenglishontheinternet we gave you different phrases to use in a conversation to ask for help or directions if you are lost.
You can also watch our video conversation example to help with pronunciation, in the video you will hear a British accent and an American accent.
Below is the example conversation and then we will talk about the language we have used.
A: Excuse me, do you have a moment?
B: Ummm….sure, how can I help you?
A: I need to get to the library, could you help me?
B: Oh sure, I know the library well, I go there every day. Walk five blocks down and then take the 6 train. You’ll go three stops and get off at 42nd Street.
A: Sorry, can you repeat that please?
B: Get off at 42nd street.
A: Is it far from there?
B: From the station it’s just a stone’s throw away. Walk two blocks west and you will see it in front of you. You can’t miss it!
A: That’s great. Thank you! And one other thing, can you recommend a good place for lunch nearby?
B: Whenever I go to the library I eat at Dig, it’s very good.
A: Do you know if it’s open today?
B: I think so!
A: Great, thank you for your help!
B: You’re welcome, have a good day!
This blog will take you step-by-step from the example conversation to vocabulary and grammar you will need. So you can have this conversation and be confident in speaking English. This is for any level, elementary, intermediate or even advanced English speakers.
Politely get someone's attention
When you want to ask for help, you should start with a question like “Excuse me, do you have a moment?”.
This means if the person is very busy or late for something they can tell you they don’t have time to help.
Other questions you can use are:
- Sorry to interrupt, but can you help me?
- Excuse me, can you tell me…(where the cinema is)?
- Sorry to butt in, but may I just…(ask if you know where the cinema is)?
All these are examples of indirect questions, for more information go to tip 3.
Use Modal Verbs
In English, it is better to ask “Could you help me?” than saying “Help me”. In English it is rude to be too direct, “Help me” is too direct.
One way to politely ask for help is using modal verbs (e.g. Can, could, may, might etc) in your question.
Use Indirect Questions
Another way of asking for help politely is to use indirect questions. An indirect question is when you put the question in a longer sentence.
In our conversation video (above) “Do you know if it’s open today?” is an indirect question. The direct question would be “Is it open today?”.
Common phrases we use at the start of indirect questions are:
- Can you tell me…(what time it is)?
- Would you mind…(helping me)?
- Do you know if…(this is the bus to London)?
When we change a direct question to an indirect question we need to change the structure of the sentence. There is more than one way of doing this.
For more information about how to use indirect questions you can look at these websites:
If you want more help with how to ask questions in English, be more polite, or help with improving your confidence in speaking and listening: book a consultation with us and we will teach you any vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation you need.
You can also get more tips on remembering vocabulary, or tips on listening in our blogs: