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Natural English: how to make requests when out and about

orange_squeezeOften people feel at a loss when being out and about* in London they need to ask something to the person next to them or a passer-by. Some students feel they can’t find the right words. Today’s post is about the kind of questions you might need to ask strangers when going around the city. The questions I came up with are deliberately more complex than the ones you’d usually learn at school and mostly used by British people.

‘To be out and about’ means to be out doing stuff, going to places etc

CAN I SQUEEZE IN?

Context: you’re on the bus and you’ve just seen a spare seat but someone is sitting on the aisle seat. You could ask this person ‘Sorry, can I sit there?’ or ‘Sorry, can I squeeze in?’.

The idea behind the use of the verb ‘squeeze in’ is that you know that there isn’t enough room and this person will have to move a bit to let you sit there. You want to bother them the least, so you’ll try to squeeze in.

ARE YOU DONE WITH THAT PAPER? – TO BE DONE WITH SOMETHING

If ‘you’re done with something’ you don’t need that thing anymore.

Context: you’re on the tube and see someone placing the paper they’ve just read on a seat next to them, before grabbing it you might want to ask “sorry, are you done with that paper?”.

BY ANY CHANCE

Context: you want to ask for directions / some information. For instance, you need to take money out and are looking for an ATM.
You could add to your question the expression ‘by any chance’ to show your being aware that the person you’re asking might not know the answer: “Sorry, by any chance do you know where I can find an ATM ?”.

TO KEEP AN EYE ON SOMETHING

Context: you’re at the pub and want to go to the toilet but you’re afraid someone will accidentally take your beer. You decide to ask the person next to you to keep an eye on it: “sorry, could you keep an eye on my beer while I go to the toilet?”

In this context ‘to keep an eye on something’ means to look after something, to make sure nothing bad will happen to it.

TO SAVE SOMEONE SOMETHING

Context: still at the pub, you and your mate want to go out for a smoke but don’t want to lose your seats. You could ask the people next to you “Sorry, could you save us these seats while we go for a smoke?.

In this context, ‘to save someone their seat’ means to make sure nobody will take those seats while they’re gone.

TO BORROW SOMETHING

If you borrow something, you ask the permission to use something for a period of time after which you’ll give it back.
Context: you’re outside the pub (your beer and seat are safe inside) and realise that you don’t have a lighter. You could ask someone “do you have a lighter” but how about “could I borrow your lighter?” since this is what you want to do.

TO FETCH SOMEONE SOMETHING

This is another way to say ‘to get something and give it to someone’.
Context: still at the pub (you’re loving the British drinking culture! You’ll never leave this pub), you want to go out and need your coat. The pub is packed and your coat is out of reach because some strangers are now sitting where you initially put your coat. You could squeeze in or just ask them to give it to you: “Sorry mate, I don’t suppose you could fetch me that coat?”

I DON’T SUPPOSE (Br)

‘I don’t suppose’ is an expression often used to make clear that you don’t want to bother the person you’re asking to do something. British people tend to assume they’re bothering everyone 🙂

TO GIVE SOMEONE A HAND

Finally, you’ve had enough of London and want to take the train back to wherever you come from. You get on the train and your backpack is so heavy that you can’t lift it (all that shopping at Primark!) and want to ask someone to help you: “Sorry could you give me a hand with this backpack?”

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy your day out and about in London!:)

Talk soon,
Deb

p.s.= after rereading this post I’ve realised that most of what I assumed to be your day in London was spent in a pub 🙂

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