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How to make requests that don’t sound like questions

Polite questions doctors
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In some languages, it’s important to use the correct form of address when asking politely. Perhaps your language has two or more forms of the pronoun ‘you.’ In English, we have only one form. That’s why there are other ways to show your politeness when you speak. And it’s the length of the question that shows how polite you want to be.

As a general rule, if you want to be extremely polite, make your question as grammatically complicated as possible. The less you phrase your request as a direct question, the more polite it sounds. Culturally, that may not make much sense to you. But it’s the reason that in English, there are many questions that don’t sound like questions.

Are you studying Medical English? If you are, then it’s important that you phrase your questions with the correct level of politeness. And for passing the OET speaking section, you’ll need to use the appropriate register. Maybe you know about modal verbs like ‘can’ and ‘could.’ But did you know that if you want to make your question more polite, you can use ‘was’? And that negatives like ‘don’t’ in a question are the ultimate in politeness?

Below is SLC’s general guide to the order of politeness in questions. If you want a deeper dive into using the correct grammar for healthcare, we’ve got you covered. We have courses in both Essential and Advanced Grammar for Healthcare.


example question

politeness rating

‘Can’ as modal verb

Can you stand up for me?



‘Could’ as modal verb

Could you give me your full address?


be + able to

Are you able to prescribe this particular medication for Mrs Smith?


was wondering + if + subject + modal verb

I was wondering if you could provide me with the patient’s medical record.


don’t suppose + subject + modal verb

I don’t suppose we could collaborate on this patient’s care plan?


Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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