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Q: Making requests in Spanish - Podría ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Making requests in Spanish - Podría
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: patrice29-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 27 Sep 2005 12:10 PDT
Expires: 27 Oct 2005 12:10 PDT
Question ID: 573368
I'd like to learn the typical most typical way of making requests in
(Latin American) Spanish.

In English we use "could" and "would" a lot, mainly to avoid giving commands.
Could I have a napkin.
Would you give me a napkin.

However I sometimes hear in Spanish different ways of expressing these
kinds of simple requests.
Una servilleta por favor. (A napkin please).
Puede dame una servilleta? (Can you give me a napkin).

These expressions can be used in English, however they probably
wouldn't be our first choice of words.  Instead using Could and Would
are the most typical way of making simple requests.

I'm hoping for any information or expreiences that would help me
understand the most common, typical way of making requests. 
Specifically if "podría" is often used, or if using "puede" and "por
favor" more common for informal speach.

Podría dame una servilleta? - is this typical and common?

Could you show me where it is?
Podría mostrarme donde está?
Are these common forms of speach?

Muchas Gracias en adelante por toda ayuda!
Mi español progresa, pero hay muchos chichónes en la calle!

Subject: Re: Making requests in Spanish - Podría
Answered By: guillermo-ga on 29 Sep 2005 15:39 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Patrice, nice to see you again.

We have a rule in Google Answers that says that if an answers has been
given in a comment, a regular answer is to be posted only if it can
add information significant to the question that the comment didn't
cover. With that in mind, I decided to post an answer.

To avoid confusion, I'll begin by saying that everything stated in
Joltoc's comment is correct. And so are the additions by Elids and
Scribe. So I'll limit to clarify some aspects that could lead to
confussion, and add a few things not included there.

First, a clarification about the use of "podría". Podría is the verb
"poder", translatable as "can" / "could", "may", "be able", depending
on the context. The desinence "ía" is what gives its conditional
conjugation. But you wouldn't necessarily use this verb to ask
something in the conditional mode:

"¿Podría darme una servilleta?" corresponds exactly to:

"Could I have a napkin?" or "May I have a napkin?" or more literally
"Could you give me a napkin?"

But there is stil to consider the equivalent to:

"Would you give me a napkin?" which is:

"¿Me daría una servilleta?" where the conditional form is given by the
desinence "ía" added to the verb "dar" = "to give"

One major difference between English and Spanish is that the latter is
strongly desinencial, so it doesn't need auxiliary verbs to construct
tenses, as English does (in this case, "would"). Now, this conditional
form, ommiting the verb "poder" ("podría", or "podrías" in a
colloquial context) is by large the preferred usage. Still, the form
preceded by the verb poder is not uncommon, as a way to emphasize

Also, you can chose to ommit the conditional conjugation:

"¿Me da una servilleta?" The approximate English correspondance would
be: "Do you give me a napkin?", which would not be used in that
situation. Now, in Spanish, this option is at least as much used as
the conditional one, if not more. This one sounds closer to the
imperative form, but it's not it (what would be "Deme una

A slight and curious difference between the usage of the conditional
and non-conditional form for making a request:

"¿Me da una servilleta, por favor?" and "¿Me daría una servilleta?"
sound similarly polite. If you ommit "por favor" (please) in the first
case, you risk to sound a bit impolite (obviously, depending on your
general attitude and tone).

So, we can configure here an increasing scale of politenes:

1. Deme una servilleta. (imperative: mostly rude)
2. Deme una servilleta, por favor = ¿Me da una servilleta? (not
particularly kind, but OK, in the limit depending on you tone)
3. ¿Me da una servilleta, por favor? = ¿Me daría una servilleta?
(polite enough, most used)
4. ¿Me daría una servilleta, por favor? = ¿Podría darme una
servilleta? (particularly polite)
5. ¿Me podría dar una servilleta, por favor? (most polite)

Please take in account that not always the more polite the better,
specially in very colloquial situations where the excess of politeness
would sound affectionate or snob. To walk in the safe side, always use
options 3 or 4 and you'll do OK.

Now, instead of the distinction between polite and colloquial proposed
by Jolto, I would chose formal and informal, because you can be polite
or impolite in both contexts.

All the examples mentioned above are constructed in the formal style,
which means, supposing the formal "you" = "usted". To turn them into
the informal style, you only need to change the desinence to the
informal verbal inflexions:

deme -> dame;
da -> das;
daría -> darías;
podría -> podrías.

Please observe that the imperative form "deme una servilleta" would
sound rude unless there is a context justifying that usage, such a
very vertical relationship like in the army, or in an emergency when
you need to do things fast. However, the imperative will no be
necessarily impolite in a very informal context, typically at home,
provided the tone and attitude is agreeable.

I believe that now you'll have the whole picture, including forms that
are the most widely used. As usual, I'm at your command for any
clarification you may need.



Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 30 Sep 2005 00:36 PDT
Typo: where I wrote "affectionate" I meant "affected". Sorry.

Request for Answer Clarification by patrice29-ga on 03 Oct 2005 07:27 PDT
This is exactly what I need to know. Great explanation!
I have two follow on's though.

Is: Puede me da una servilleta? -good grammar and where would it fit
in the 1-5 spectrum you listed?

I imagine that the size of a task might help determine if the more
polite Podría is used.  Say, if the request was "to drive me to the
airport" rather than "give me a napkin".

Thanks much Guillermo.

Request for Answer Clarification by patrice29-ga on 03 Oct 2005 10:19 PDT
I think maybe I should have written it:

Me puede dar una servilleta?

Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 03 Oct 2005 14:25 PDT
Hello Patrice!

Thanks for appreciating my answer so much.

As to your requests for clarification, well, the prove that your
Spanish is improving is your second one ;-)

As you've suspected, "¿Puede me da una servilleta?" is not correct,
while "¿Me puede dar una servilleta?" is. There's something curious
about it, because the conjugated form "puede" requires and infinitive
form -"dar"- and with infinitives the pronoun "me" needs to be
attached as a suffix, instead of being used as a preceding independent
word, as is the preference for most conjugated verbs -there are
exceptions such as the imperative forms, "deme", "dame". (By the way,
for most conjugated forms, the use of "me" as a suffix is not
incorrect but archaic: until the first decades of twentieth century,
"díjome" would have been as usual as "me dijo" -s/he told me- but it's
completely outdated now). However, you can use the pronoun "me"
separately provided that you put it before the conjugated verb, so
that you can say either: "me puede dar" or "puede darme", but not
"puede dar me". The place in the spectrum of politeness where I'd put
it is number two: the conditional seems to impact more in the
politeness effect than the use of the verb "poder".

Regarding the incidence of the task size in the level of politeness
needed, I agree with you, the bigger the effort you demand, the more
polite the request you need to make. Here is important to
differentiate the axis polite-impolite, from the axis formal-informal.
For example, if you ask your closest friend to drive you to the
airport, you need to be more polite than if you asked her to pass you
the salt -but not more formal. In such a case, it's frequent the
curious use of the negative phrasing for the request mentioned in
Scribe-ga's comment. "¿No me llevarías al aeropuerto?" with a slightly
pleading voice, like when saying "pleeeese" ;-) would be a very polite
request in an informal situation. Hope this helps.

Best regards,


Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 03 Oct 2005 15:52 PDT
¡Gracias a vos, por la calificación y la propina! (Te recuerdo que soy
argentino :) [Thank you, for the rating and tip. (I remind you of my
being Argentine)]

¡Gracias a ti, por la calificación y la propina! (Como diría el resto
de los hispanoparlantes). [Thank you, for the rating and tip. (Like
the rest of the Spanish speakers would say)]

[Translations are not for you, of course, it's a Google Answers requiment :) ]

Thank you, for the rating and tip.

Request for Answer Clarification by patrice29-ga on 04 Oct 2005 05:20 PDT
Politness spectrum listed in more detail above:
1. imperative: mostly rude
2. particularly kind, but OK.
3. polite enough, most used.
4. particularly polite.
5. most polite.

I'm surprised you didn't put the politness rating for  Me puede dar
una servilleta?, as 3.  In this form the person is saying:  To me can
you give a napkin?  Wouldn't this be polite enough in Spanish?  Or
does it derserve the 2 you rated it as in the clarification?

Regarding negativly stated requests, I've noticed that sometimes we
state suggestions in the negative in English.
ex.  Let's see if we can't find someplace to eat.
Not exactly the same, but with some similarity.


Request for Answer Clarification by patrice29-ga on 04 Oct 2005 05:22 PDT
2. not particularly kind, but OK.

Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 04 Oct 2005 10:00 PDT
Hello Patrice,

Interesting find the comparison between the use of negative
constructions in English and in Spanish. I agree that there's some
relation to the Spanish use of negation for requests. It's like saying
"we know that everybody's out and restaurants are full, but we know
just all the places and we'll make it" or "I know that you're tired
and the airport is far from here, but you love me and I'm so charming
that you just can't say now". I think both uses have in common the
assumption that we'll overcome the difficulty of the situation.

As to the rating for "¿Me puede dar una servilleta?", we are dealing
with nuances here, which generally imply a certain amount of
subjectivity. I think we could place it somewhere in between 2 and 3,
because the verb "puede" adds a bit of politeness -though not as much
as the use of conditional-, but if the attitude doesn't go clearly
along with it, its polite connotation may get spoiled.



Request for Answer Clarification by patrice29-ga on 04 Oct 2005 15:05 PDT
Thanks again Guillermo. Great Answer!


Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 04 Oct 2005 16:41 PDT
Don't mention it ;-)
patrice29-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Very through and clear.


Subject: Re: Making requests in Spanish - Podría
From: joltoc7-ga on 28 Sep 2005 05:33 PDT
Spanish language makes a clear distinction between polite and
colloquial use. "Podría", when used for making requests, is considered
formal and educated, and in Latin America is mostly used for
addressing to people you don't know very well (or don't know at all),
or when you speak to persons who deserve certain level of respect
(elder people, your boss at the office, officials, etc). Example:
"¿Podría darme usted otro día para terminar, por favor?". If you want
to request something to a close friend (a very good pal) just use the
imperative (command): "Dame una servilleta, por favor", but if you
don't want to sound rude (or this friend is not so close) you can
change that for "Puedes darme una servilleta, por favor? / "¿Me puedes
dar una servilleta, por favor?". There is an "intermediate" level of
respect which you can use
for example in the street for asking directions: "¿Me puede decir
donde está el Hotel Hilton, por favor? / ¿Puede decirme la hora, por
favor?", unless you talk to young people or children. That is common
usage in northern Latin America and Caribbean Islands but of course
there are a lot of regional variations. In Bogotá, for example, people
tend to be more polite when they speak, so "Podría" requests can be
used in any context in this city, except of course in an intimate
level. Even close friends (if both of them are men) stick to formal
language in this city most of the times. Southern countries like
Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, prefer "Podés" instead of "Puedes"
when making requests in an informal level, but they also use "Puede"
and "Podría" constructions, so they'll always understand you in those
cases. In spanish, polite and informal levels of language are
determined by the use of "usted" or "tu" (both meaning singular "you")
which require different verb conjugation endings, as it happens with
the German use of "Sie" and "du". Just learn the situations where
you'd address someone with formal or informal "you" and it'll be more
easy for you to choose the right words.
Besides of being used for making requests, "podría" is also a very
common verbal conjugation in everyday speech and in newspapers, and it
indicates possibility. In those cases it is identical to the
subjunctive use of "could" instead of "can", when something is
possible or feasible. As a matter of fact, "podria" is what we call in
Spanish a "conditional conjugation" and is widely used in Spain and
Latin America as well.
You can choose to include "por favor" particle to your informal and
formal requests or not, but it is expected in higher formal
situations. However if you forget to use it don't worry as long as you
act politely. When in doubt, just add it.
Subject: Re: Making requests in Spanish - Podría
From: elids-ga on 28 Sep 2005 09:29 PDT
Excellent comment from joltoc, absolutely accurate. 

I would only add that on "If you want to request something to a close
friend (a very good pal) just use the imperative (command): "Dame una
servilleta, por favor", but if you don't want to sound rude.. " The
word 'Dame' is hardly ever used, a more common word would be 'pasame'.
 Dame= Give me, Pasame= Pass me, as in 'pasame la sal' (pass me the
salt) as supposed to 'dame la sal' (give me the salt).
Subject: Re: Making requests in Spanish - Podría
From: scribe-ga on 29 Sep 2005 09:25 PDT
I lived in Meixco for two years, many years ago. I seem to recall a
curious construction that was maybe considered a highly polite or
respectful way of making a request, which was to phrase the request in
the negative. For example: No me dan el libro por favor? I have no
idea if this kind of phrasing is still in use or not, but I thought
you might find this interesting.

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