The 6 Principles of Polite Speaking

If you want to learn how to speak politely in English, you will have to:

a) notice how proficient English speakers formulate their speech in order to communicate in a polite way

b) practise using these polite phrases in communication activities (inside and outside the classroom)

c) evaluate the success of using these politeness phrases in different situations

Learning how and when to use polite language takes time and practice. There are many questions to consider:

  • where is the conversation taking place?
  • who is your conversation partner?
  • why do you want to speak politely with them?
  • how will the other person feel if you use polite language?
  • what results do you want to achieve by communicating politely

Politeness is not always appropriate but it is common to adopt a polite approach when we do not know our conversational partner very well.

Modern English does not really have a polite form of address. We use the same personal pronoun ‘you’ to talk to a close friend or a stranger. This means that we have to use specific language in n order to demonstrate respect, deference and consideration.

Although these communicative strategies are varied and there are differences due to factors such as gender, age, nationality, region, cultural background, social class, professional background and so on, there are a set of general principles which apply to most communicative situations when it is appropriate to communicate politely.

Here are 6  general principles which I will look at in future lessons:


  1. The Uncertainty Principle

  2. The Indirect Question Principle

  3. The Respect Intelligence Principle

  4. The Sensitive Correction Principle

  5. The Reluctant Disagreement Principle

  6. The Avoid Direct Commands Principle