could you please maintain silence for a while?

-so, I have to find the error in this sentence? The book in which I found this says: the error is with the 'could you' part, but doesn't explain it further. As a result of which I am confused now. Isn't 'could' used in making requests as in this sentence :Could you lend me five pounds until tomorrow? I know there is nothing grammatically wrong with the sentence just mentioned . So, how using 'could' in the first sentence be considered wrong? Is using 'could' in a sentence where there is also a 'please' considered wrong? Thanks in advance.


There's nothing wrong with it. The book is dodgy I'm afraid.

"Could you ... ?" requests are correct and extrenely common.

"Will/Would/Can/Could you ...?" - all fine. "Would/Could you" are more formal and indirect. "Will you" is the most pressing and urgent, closest to the imperative, but softened with a "please".

NB: in matters of formality / politeness in SPOKEN English, the intonation plays a very big role; differences between the 4 options can narrow depending on that.

  • Is using 'could' in a sentence where there is also a 'please' considered wrong in formal english? – user108579 Oct 13 '17 at 16:21
  • No, not at all. – Mark E K Oct 13 '17 at 16:30
  • You can put the 'please' either first, before the main verb or at the end. I sometimes jokingly get my daughter to say it it in all 3 places : "Please could you please tell me where the sweets are, please?" :) Don't copy that though. – Mark E K Oct 13 '17 at 16:32

Your use of the "blockquote" feature in your post leads me to carefully scrutinize the way you posed the question. You have carefully (but not completely) avoided use or mention of beginning a sentence with a capital (or majuscule) letter of the first word in the sentence. Your "single-quote, space, word" construction raised flags.

The "wrong" in the sentence refers to the use of a minuscule letterform as the first letter of the first word to indicate the beginning of an English sentence.

Poetical and artistic expression can be granted some license if context permits the departure from the standard.


Clearly, the sentence needs to start with a capital letter. But the error may be in the end punctuation, the question mark. Could you please maintain silence for a while? is not a question, to which an answer is expected.

The inclusion of please indicates that it is a request. The Chicago Manual of Style (p329) in the section on Question Marks states:

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.

The sentence in question can be reduced to Please maintain silence for a while.

There is corroboration from Peters in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (p453):

... the absence of a question mark from an inverted sentence shows that it is not intended as a question, but as a request invitation or instruction:

  • Could I use your phone.
  • Doesn't require a question mark, but doesn't mean it's not correct, or better, stylistically couth, to use one. – Arm the good guys in America Nov 12 '17 at 20:04

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