Please, sorry and thank you

When you are learning a language it is very easy to be misunderstood. For this reason I want to talk about “please”, “thank you” and “sorry”, without a doubt the three most important words in English communication.


In English culture it is very easy to offend people by speaking to them without the proper politeness. You don’t say “sit down”, that would be an order! By saying “Please sit down” it becomes an invitation to join you. Often foreign travellers don’t know this and they encounter unfriendly faces or responses to simple questions like: “Where is the railway station?” or “Can we have a double room?”. It makes a big difference if you ask the same questions in a polite way: “Please, could you tell me where the railway station is?” (or even better: “Excuse me, could you please tell me where the railway station is?”) and “(Excuse me) can we have a double room, please?”. Without the please something is missing. If you enter a pub and order “a beer and a coke” it is possible that the bartender keeps looking at you because in his opinion you haven’t finished the order. It’s not that he is consciously waiting for you to say “please”, but he is expecting you to order something more like a bag of crisps. By saying “A beer and a coke, please” you make it clear that that will be all for the moment. And when it’s time to pay, you of course ask: “Excuse me, can I have the bill, please?”.


Sorry is another essential word, especially in British English. Never say: “What?” or “What did you say?”. If you don’t understand people say: “I’m sorry?”, or: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand”, otherwise it sounds really rude. A second situation in which the use of sorry is important is as an apology. Always say sorry when you bother people, even if you can’t help it. So for example when you pass in front of people in a cinema, or if you gently push aside someone’s shopping trolley in a supermarket, or if you’re leaning towards someone in an elevator in order to push a button. And don’t be surprised that when you by accident step on someone’s foot, he or she, so the victim, will withdraw his or her foot saying “sorry”! But please don’t forget too say so yourself too!

Thank you

Last but not least you have to use “thank you” a lot. It’s a very useful phrase when someone does you a favour. If you don´t say “thank you” people will think you have bad manners. So say “thank you” when someone gives you directions, when a waiter serves you your drink, when someone moves over in a full train to offer you a bit more space and when your landlady offers you a biscuit with your cup of tea. You will see, being polite is more important than speaking correct English. As long as you are polite people will forgive you your grammatical errors and make a bigger effort to communicate with you.