0

In email correspondence with my team I use the wording and punctuation:

Could you please handle this.

As a polite form of:

Please handle this.

To be clear, it is an assignment, this is not a question. Is this usage normal? Are there rules against it. Am I perceived as rude?

closed as off-topic by curiousdannii, David, Cascabel, Dan Bron, Mari-Lou A Jul 20 '17 at 20:19

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • The only major shift in style you might consider is to add a "lemme know" phrase: "Let me know if you have any questions", or "Let me know if you need any help with this" or some such. – Hot Licks Jun 2 '17 at 21:36
  • Note, however, that as a title "Could you please answer this question" sounds like a (rather impolite) demand. – Hot Licks Jun 2 '17 at 22:11
  • Sorry, I was not clear. A major point of this question is the use of a period at the end rather than a question mark. – William Entriken Jun 3 '17 at 20:48
  • @HotLicks sorry, added quotation marks – William Entriken Jun 3 '17 at 20:49
  • 1
    @Hot Licks I think your point is that a formal or polite wording by no means softens the tone of the sentence, and paradoxically makes it sound all the more like a demand -- sad but true! This is the way many people would interpret it. Could you guess why extreme politeness only seems to elicit hostility? You know I value your assessment. – English Student Jun 3 '17 at 21:52
4

If you are wondering about whether you can use a period rather than a question mark to punctuate a sentence that is worded as a question but issues an imperative instruction, The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) should set your mind at ease:

6.69 Requests as questions. A request disguised as a question does not require a question mark. Such formulations can usually be reduced to the imperative.

Would you kindly respond by March 1.

or

Please respond by March 1.

But on the politeness question, appropriateness is in the eye of the beholder. To mine, expressing a command as a question without a question mark forfeits any overtone of politeness that expressing a command as a question with a question mark might convey. If I'm being told to do something, I would rather hear it as "Please send me the document immediately" than as "Would you please send me the document immediately." I acknowledge that this is a subjective reaction.

Expressing a command as a question with a question mark (as in "Could you please handle this?") raises the logical possibility that the recipient will view it as a request that he or she is entitled to decline. But in practice I doubt that many recipients would misunderstand the tenor of such a sentence. What makes it polite, in my opinion, is that, even though it doesn't anticipate that the recipient will answer no, it implicitly concedes that reasons may exist that prevent the recipient from doing as instructed. No such concession attaches to the declarative form "Could you please handle this." If you are unwilling to countenance the possibility of being refused, I think you will make a better impression on the recipient by prefacing your command with "please" than by framing the order—with or without the "please"—as a question that isn't really a question.

  • 1
    This is one of the best answers I have ever read at ELU in these 7 weeks, in terms of giving OP excellent advice in the specific context of the question asked -- that too an added query about punctuation, which your answer has imbued with nuance of extreme significance. I appreciate and upvote! The final statement of your answer is an unequivocal summation for OP. – English Student Jun 3 '17 at 21:10
  • 1
    "But on the politeness question, appropriateness is in the eye of the beholder." ___ this is exactly where the polite person can be 'hoist with his own petard': many a politely worded request or order has been appreciated but many another misunderstood, and I believe that a genuine sincerity of tone could greatly help the polite person express their point, especially in spoken communication: whereas a lack of warmth would lead to an interpretation of insincerity or indifference by the listener. – English Student Jun 3 '17 at 21:34
4

For the purpose of completeness let me address your question as if it applies not only to email but also to regular speech. I have heard people who talk like that! There is nothing wrong with such usage. Rather than rude, you would be perceived as highly polite or formal.

Could you please,

if you could please,

may I request you to please,

would it be possible for you to please,

would you be kind enough to please,

would it greatly inconvenience you to please, etc

are just excessively polite ways of framing a request or order that usually needs just a simple 'please.'

Such phrases are a remnant and reminder of the so-called 'age of manners' when it was considered rude not to use such phrases in polite society. The novels of authors like Jane Austen have both satirised and immortalised such usage, which is still appropriate in certain situations, especially when dealing with somebody who expects and values formality and politeness to the point of taking offence at an informal tone of address. However such excessive formality of language used in everyday social situations can irritate modern and forthright persons who consider it unnecessary and circumspect:

Mr.A: would you please be kind enough to pass that file, please?

Mr.B simply passes the file and thinks, what weirdly polite language for this day and age! We dont speak like that here. He must be such a circumspect person.

It is part of simple courtesy to couch an order as a polite request so as to show respect to the other person, but being excessively polite can have certain social and professional drawbacks, in my own humble experience. Some people including myself are just naturally formal and polite which is no bad thing, but we might be perceived as cool, cold, remote, aloof, arrogant or detached though not outright rude. This is especially possible when highly polite usage is not naturally part of the conversation or communication of that social / professional milieu. Some people actually prefer a rudely forthright person to an excessively polite one!

Mr.B later tells Mr.C: his excessive politeness gets on my nerves! I much prefer plain talking individuals with a bit of colloquial warmth and the odd rude phrase, if you get my meaning...

A lot depends on whom you are addressing and the level of formality that is native to that particular group and the specific interaction. To sound warmer or less formal, just drop the polite phrases and use simple 'please' with your request/ order/ assignment!

Note 2: some people including movie dialogue writers and comedians have juxtaposed excessively polite phrases with rude/ vulgar expressions to convey exasperation, sarcasm or just plain humor:

Could you please kindly shut your €&*@%$ mouth and let me think my way out of this mess you have kindly got us into!

Would you be kind enough to please tell me, Mr. D, why exactly, in your esteemed opinion, you behaved like a €&*@%$ fool?

With your kind permission, may I please take the liberty of shoving this €&@%$ document down your €&@%$ throat, unless you could be so kind as to tell me what my €&*@%$ mother-in-law is really up to!

  • Thank you for the complete deconstruction! Do you have any comments specifically on the use of using a period to end a "could you..." sentence? – William Entriken Jun 3 '17 at 20:50
  • @Full Decent you are most welcome. Your latest, pertinent query has been expertly answered by the senior member Sven Yargs and the final sentence of that answer contains the best advice for your purpose! – English Student Jun 3 '17 at 21:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.