How to Say Things in Spanish… Politely
Just as in English, in Spanish there are ways to mellow out your requests. Of course, intonation and body language are important when you want to appear friendly and amable (amiable). In addition, certain ways of speaking can help you to say things in Spanish that are really requests or commands, but at the same time show that you are muy amable (very nice).
Lets begin with querer (to want). You may have learned the present tense conjugation:
(yo) quiero — (I) want
(tú) quieres — (you) want (familiar)
el, ella, usted quiere — he, she wants and you want (formal)
nosotros queremos — we want
ellos, ellas, ustedes quieren — they want and you [plural] want
In a restaurant you might say:
Quiero una limonada. — I want a glass of lemonade.
If a friend asks if she can offer you something, you might say:
Quisiera un vaso de agua. — I might like a glass of water.
[quisiera is a past subjunctive form: quisiera, quisieras, quisiera, quisiéramos, quisieran]
If what you want is not a thing, but for the other person to do something, a similar strategy may be used by putting the request in question form:
¿Quieres pasarme (alcanzarme) la salsa (por favor)? — Will you pass (reach me) the salsa, please?
¿Quieres acompañarme al cine? — Will you go with me to a movie?
To be even mellower, use the conditional form of querer [conjugation: quería, querías, quería, queríamos, querían]:
¿Querías pasarme la salsa? — Would you like to pass me the salsa?
¿Querías acompañarme al cine? — Would you mind going to a movie with me?
Another way to soften a request is with a lead-in:
A ver si... — Let's see if...
Hágame el favor de... — Do me the favor of...
Favor de... — Please...
Try these Spanish sentences:
A ver si me traes una cerveza. — Let's see if you could bring me a beer.
Hágame el favor de cerrar la ventana. — Do me the favor of closing the window.
Favor de pagar la cuenta en la caja. — Please pay the bill at the cash register.
And here’s how to say things in Spanish even to a complete stranger:
Disculpe la molestia pero... — Forgive the bother, but...
More Spanish sentences:
Disculpe la molestia, pero creo que este es mi asiento asignado. — Pardon me, but I think this is my assigned seat.
Disculpe la molestia, pero quiero ir a la Plaza Central. — Pardon me, but I want to go the Central Plaza [and I don't know how to get there - implied].
A third way to say things in Spanish with amabilidad (kindness) is to tack something on the end, such as ¿no?, ¿eh?, ¿se puede? (can it be done?), ¿puedes? (do you want to?):
Vamos a tomar un cafecito, ¿se puede? — Let's get a cup of coffee, okay?
Préstame tu diccionario, ¿puedes? — Lend me your dictionary, will you?
Manejas, ¿no? — You're going to drive, okay?
No grites, ¿eh? — Don't shout, okay?
Finally, remember that the diminutive suffix on nouns doesn’t just convey smallness, but possibly also endearment or softening of a request for something. For example, all over the Spanish speaking world, people are being asked to wait with this utterance:
¡Espere un momentito! — [Please] wait just a moment!
¡Compre estas galletitas riquísimas! — Buy these extraordinarily delicious cookies!