Asking for and Giving Permission

When do we need to ask for permission? I’m sure you have to ask for or grant permission on a daily basis at work, at home, while you commute, etc. How are we supposed to ask for permission in English? Well, there are all kinds of different phrases you can use. They can be formal if the situation requires that or less formal or informal if you are talking to your friends and family. An important thing is to always be polite when asking for and giving permission.

You can use modal verbs to ask for permission. We use the modal verbs CAN and COULD if we are in the company of our friends and family, but in formal situations, it is more appropriate to use MAY to ask for permission.

Asking for and Giving Permission in English

Asking for permission directly

For example:

  • Can I borrow your phone? I need to call my parents to tell them I’ll be late.
  • Could I have another piece of cake? It’s so delicious.
  • May I ask you to turn on the heating? It’s freezing in here.

You can always add ‘please’ to your sentences if you want to be more polite.

  • Hello, can I speak to Jack, please?
  • Could I make myself a sandwich, please?
  • May I use your laptop to check my mail, please?

Asking for and Giving Permission in English

Asking for permission indirectly

It is always a good idea to ask for permission indirectly, so you can use the following phrases:

  • Would you mind if I leave now, I’m having a terrible headache?
  • Do you mind if I open the window? It’s so hot in here.
  • Is it alright if I smoke in here? 
  • Is it OK if we stay for the night? It’s too late to drive now.
  • Could you possibly hold my bag while I go to the bathroom?
  • I was wondering if Jacob could stay for dinner?
  • Do you think I could use your car on Saturday morning? Mine’s broken.
 Asking for and Giving Permission
Asking for and Giving Permission

How to give permission

To grant permission, you can use the following phrases:

  • Yes, of course
  • Yes, sure
  • Certainly
  • No problem
  • Go ahead
  • Please, by all means
  • Help yourself

Asking for and Giving Permission in English

For example:
  • ‘Can I borrow some money? I forgot my wallet at home.’ ‘Yes, of course. How much do you need?’
  • ‘Could I possibly skip this class? I’m not feeling very well.’ ‘Yes, sure. I hope you’ll get well soon.’
  • Do you mind if I use your phone?’ ‘No, not at all. Here you are.’
  • Do you think I could get a week off work? We are travelling abroad.’ ‘No problem. You’ll make it up when you get back. Don’t forget to send us a postcard!’
  • ‘Do you mind if I have a shower in your bathroom, we are having plumbers in ours?’ ‘Certainly. Please go ahead. Do you need a towel?’
  • Could I have another helping of the risotto?’ ‘Yes, of course. Please, help yourself.
  • Would you mind if I borrowed your book?’ ‘Please, by all means.
 Asking for and Giving Permission
Asking for and Giving Permission

How to refuse permission

Here are some phrases to help you refuse permission. Don’t forget to give your reasons why you refuse permission if you want to avoid being rude.

  • Sorry…
  • Sorry but…
  • I’m afraid…
  • I’d rather you didn’t…
  • Actually,…
  • Unfortunately,…
  • I don’t mean to be rude, but…

Asking for and Giving Permission in English

For example:
  • ‘Do you think I could borrow your bicycle on Sunday?’ ‘Sorry, but I’ve already given it to my son. You can book it for the next week.’
  • May I take a look at your newspaper?’ ‘I’m afraid you may not because I’m reading it.’
  • I was wondering if I could possibly borrow your phone charger?’ ‘Actually, my battery is empty as well. Why don’t you ask someone else?’
  • Do you mind if I sit here?’ ‘I’m afraid that seat is already taken.’
  • Can I have one of your apples?’ ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but I was going to eat it later.’
  • ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’ ‘I’d rather you didn’t.
  • Can I pay by credit card? ‘Unfortunately, you can’t pay by credit card. We accept only cash.’
  • Would you mind looking after our cats while we’re away?’ ‘I don’t want to be rude, but my husband is allergic to cats. Do you want me to ask my sister?
Asking for and Giving permission
Asking for and giving permission

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