I have asked a simple thing from my official senior as:

Can you please provide me the data to work on.

So his reply was

when you say can you do you mean that If I can provide the data or not.

I felt like my question was wrong which has made a bad impression on him. Since my intention was not wrong only choice of words got wrong.

My question is:- What is the best way to ask for something from your senior in official language.

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    Is your client a native English speaker or are you communicating in English because it's the best common language? I suspect the second because the grammar of his reply is poor. Your question would be understood perfectly by native English speakers and only an unreasonable person would respond as rudely as that, particularly if they acutually wanted the work doing. The only change you could have made was either to leave out "can" or replace it with "would" but, again, most native English speakers would hardly notice the difference. – BoldBen Feb 19 at 10:41

Occasionally people interpret can you as an insult because they feel that their ability is being called into question. To avoid future problems you might try some of the following responses:

1.) "Hi ___ (name of client)! This week is perfect for me to work on your project. If it's not too much trouble, would you please send me your data so that I can get started working on it?" (This is not very direct, nor formal, but it does make a request for what you need and politely implies that they need to take action to avoid project delays.)

2.) "Dear ___ (name of client/appropriate honorific), I am ready to work on your project. Please send me the necessary data at your earliest convenience." (This is more formal and direct, but still fairly polite in tone.

3.) "Dear ____ (name of person to whom you are addressing the correspondence), Please send me the data that I need. Thank you."(This is very direct.)

As a native speaker (I'm American), I would not have been offended by your email nor would I have had trouble correctly determining the meaning of what you had written. In fact, I have actually received a great number of similar emails, with almost that exact wording, from other native speakers.

Best of luck!


It's unfortunate that your client responded that way.

Although "can" historically refers to the ability to do something, most people accept it as a willingness to do something as well.

Replacing "can you" with "might you" or "will you please*" should help avoid a repeat, but as others have said, your client was unreasonable.

*You can use "please" for extra politeness in any option, but definitely use it with "will you"; otherwise it can be seen as an order.

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