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We were told to invite a certain person by Lord Garon. Seeing you here, we wondered if you couldn’t help us out.

He means to ask him for help, right? Is it a typo? In Polish, though, you can easily phrase it like that.

Should it have been worded using a question tag instead?

we wondered if you could help us out, couldn't you

My mother language isn't English, and I'm not quite sure about some stuff.

  • It is a typo. You're right. – vickyace Mar 31 '17 at 11:03
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    I don't believe this is a typo. Both "we wondered if you couldn't ... " and "we wondered if you could ... " are alternative forms of the same question. The former somewhat expects a negative reply, and because of this assumption reads as more polite, cautious, etc. In this way it operates similarly to the negation in "You couldn't help me, could you?". – remnant Mar 31 '17 at 11:27
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    British 'politeness' - suggesting they couldn't help out first is so they won't feel bad saying no, and the asker will be pleased if they do help out... – marcellothearcane Mar 31 '17 at 12:02
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    I'd vote it isn't a typo. The speaker is indeed being extremely cautious and wouldn't want to come off as presumptuous. – user191110 Mar 31 '17 at 12:30
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    There are nuances. Using "we wondered if you couldn’t help us out" implies a lower expectation than "we wondered if you could help us out" - which is a bit more demanding. – Davo Mar 31 '17 at 12:51
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This is a valid alternative way of asking the same question.

The article Request Strategies Across Languages from the University of Minnesota calls this a request mitigator:

Mitigating the face-threatening nature of requests can also be achieved by use of downgraders. The speaker might indicate being pessimistic with regard to the outcome of the request (negative usage)...

Look, excuse me. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind dropping me home?

Pragmatics and the English Language by Jonathan Culpeper describes this as "syntactic downgrading through negation" e.g.

I couldn't get a drink, could I?

This book notes that this construction, among others, occurs more frequently in Irish English compared to British English, and more frequently in British English compared to American English.

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