It’s important to be honest while still considering the other person’s natural reaction to what you have to say.

Polite speech enables you to communicate your meaning clearly while softening demands, presenting opinions as suggestions, and inviting discussion.

Let’s check a few things you can do to soften your phrases when communicating in English.


1- Using qualifiers

Qualifiers are words like “a little,” “a few,” and “a bit” that change a word by limiting or enhancing it.

When you start with a qualifier, it can make the words that come next sound a little less negative. The problem is still clear, but it sounds like the situation can be fixed without extreme effort.

The qualifier will be the focus word, and the stressed syllable will be the longest, the loudest, and the highest pitch.

For example,

“That looks a bit too tight on you.”

“There’s going to be a slight delay.”

“We have a minor problem.”

“The marketing campaign is a little bit behind schedule.”


2- Using negative contractions with positive adjectives

Choose a negative contraction followed by a positive adjective to soften critical feedback.

By stressing the negative contraction and adding the positive adjective, you help the listener stay open and receptive to what you have to say. Changing the structure keeps the meaning but softens the impact.

Let’s look at the more direct statement:

“That looks ugly.”

This strong negative adjective leaves no room for discussion. Let’s make it a more polite statement:

“That doesn’t look attractive.”

Stressing doesn’t make your meaning clear, but the positive possibility is what remains in their minds.

Let’s try other statements:

“That’s a horrible idea.” / “That isn’t a great idea.”

“This ad campaign will be unsuccessful.” / “This ad campaign won’t be successful.”


3- Using the past continuous tense

Another way to make a sentence less direct and more diplomatic is to use the past continuous tense. It makes the sentence sound more hypothetical and tentative and, therefore, less direct. It is an excellent technique for injecting diplomacy and politeness into your English. 

Here are a few examples:

“We need to hire more employees.” / “I was thinking we need to hire more employees.”

“I hope we can sign the contract today.” / “I was hoping that we could sign the contract today.”

“I aim to finish this project by end of this month.” / “I was aiming to finish this project by the end of the month.”


4- Using modal verbs

When adding a modal verb to a sentence, we can turn a direct request or suggestion into a more polite one.

Modal verbs like “could,” “would,” and “might” add a mood or feeling to a verb, just like intonation.

Let’s check a few examples:

“They must practice more often.” / “They could practice more often.”

“I don’t agree with that.” / “I wouldn’t agree with that.”

“We need more time to decide.” / “We might need more time to decide.”

Keep in mind that to sound more polite, you will make the modal verb the focus word. This means you’ll stress or emphasize the modal verb more than every other word, making it the longest, the loudest, and the highest in pitch.

When we stress one word more than the rest, it can change the sentence’s meaning.


5- Using softeners

You can use several softeners to prepare someone for the bad news. These often come at the beginning of a sentence such as: ‘unfortunately,’ ‘to be honest’, ‘I’m afraid,’ ‘I have to admit’, ‘with all respect’.

For example,

“To be honest, I’m not interested in those kinds of books.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

There are other softening phrases such as; ‘it looks like’, ‘it seems that’, ‘there seems to be’ and ‘at the moment’, ‘at this time’, ‘for now’.

Let’s try these statements:

“I’m sorry, but it looks like we don’t have any vacancies at the moment.”

“There seems to be something wrong with my internet service.”


6- Using the second conditional

It is very common in English to use second conditional sentences to soften requests and sound more polite.

For example, compare;

“Get back to me by tomorrow possible.” / “If you could get back to me by tomorrow, that would be great.”

“Sign this form.” / “We would appreciate it if you could sign this form.”

“Give me a discount.” / “I would be very grateful if you could give me a discount.”

Keep in mind, the second conditional structure is:

IF + SUBJECT + VERB (past) + OBJECT, SUBJ + WOULD + VERB (present) + OBJ



📌Well-brought-up: very polite.

📌Receptive: willing to consider or accept new suggestions and ideas.

📌Soften: make or become less severe.

📌Mood: a temporary state of mind or feeling.

📌Emphasize: give special importance or prominence to (something) in speaking or writing.


📌Blow up: lose one’s temper.

“The cleaning woman blows up at Micheal for always throwing his cigarettes in the toilet.”

📌Smash up: break it into many pieces.

“Thomas went crazy and smashed up his desk when the boss fired him.”


📌Set an example: to behave in a way that other people should copy.

📌Be on your best behavior: behave extremely well and be very polite on a particular occasion.

Related Articles:


📌Good manners in American culture https://www.englishpriority.com/good-manners-in-american-culture/

📌 5 tips for communicating effectively with customers https://www.englishpriority.com/5-tips-to-communicate-effectively-with-customers-2



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