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If you were asking for suggestions, say at stackexchange, what would be the most polite grammatically accurate version:

Statement of the problem followed by: 1. Do you have a suggestion? 2. Would you have a suggestion? 3. Would you happen to have a suggestion?

I didn't think of this till I used (2) today morning. When I re-read the question after a couple hours, the construction sounded odd to me. Is (2) grammatically correct? Is it more polite than (1)? Is it old-fashioned? Why does it sound a bit odd?

Would you have any thoughts? Do you have any thoughts? Would you happen to have any thoughts?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

All three are grammatically correct and I don't think any of them sound odd. Number 1 is the most concise and so I would generally prefer that.

We often ask "would you" or "could you" instead of stating what we want the person to do to be polite. Like, "Would you put that back in the box when you are done with it?" is a polite request. "Put that back in the box when you are done with it" is an order and might be considered rude.

But "do you" makes it a question rather than an order anyway, so is just as good as "would you". And making a suggestion is unlikely to be considered a chore, there's a certain implied compliment in asking someone for a suggestion, so there's not as big a need to make it more polite. "Send suggestions to xxx@example.com" probably wouldn't be considered rude even though it is phrased as a command.

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Generally, the more one qualifies a request or invitation with modals like would or would happen, the more polite the request or invitation is perceived. –  John Lawler May 21 '12 at 22:28

All three are just fine grammatically. I believe that the difference between sentence 1 and the other two is that the would is subjunctive, used to express a conditional. For example, sentence two could be a shortened version of:

Would you have a suggestion [if I were to ask you for one]?

To my ears, the use of the subjunctive comes across as more deferential, and therefore may sound more polite.

Sentences 2 and 3 are the same, except for the addition of the happen to. This again shows deference by offering that having a suggestion is merely a matter of chance.

Both the use of the subjunctive and the inclusion of happen to are acts of negative politeness since they attempt to reduce the level of imposition on the reader. In a spoken context, prosody would likely be more significant in determining the politeness of these three choices than phrasing. As for which one may be/sound more old fashioned, I have little meaningful insight. Perhaps asking for suggestions is not usually a huge burden on others, so people don't often feel the need to increase the level of politeness when requesting them.

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"Would you have a suggestion..." is really phrased as a hypothetical question. To be entirely sensible, it almost needs to be accompanied by a set of conditions -- for example, "Would you have a suggestion for how to carry things in your pockets if gravity suddenly reversed?" Depending on the exact phrasing of the rest of the question, if you fail to specify a set of conditions, the question might degenerate into something like: "is there a possibility that some set of conditions could exist under which you would have a suggestion?"

"Do you have a suggestion..." avoids the hypothetical, and simply asks whether the person does have a suggestion -- under the conditions as they actually exist.

Both are entirely grammatical, but I'd guess the second fits your intent more closely than the first. You probably want suggestions in the real situation, not some hypothetical one.

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