Please vs. Please

27 Jul

“Can we take your car, please?” I asked Marcus this evening as we were getting ready to go out for dinner. Marcus thought I was pleading because of the way I used “please”. But I thought I was just being polite.  I was surprised by Marcus’s comment but yet, I’m not too surprised because another colleague has made a similar comment about my usage of “please.” I didn’t know “please” has a pleading connotation until then.

English is my second language. I first learned English in Malaysia, which means I learned British English, not American English. Perhaps this sense of please (as in pleading) is unique to Americans only, while the polite sense of please is more common for the Queen’s English speakers? Alas, a search on Google didn’t help.

Perhaps my lack of awareness of the pleading sense of please is a limitation due to English-Chinese translation. My native language is Chinese. In Mandarin, “please” means “請”, which means a polite request while “plead” in Mandarin is “求,” which is a different character.  So by default, I use please to be polite to other people.

“Will you please be patient and let me finish my thoughts?” I can see that I’m pleading with you to be patient with me. “Please, have a seat while I finish this blog and we can go for a drink.” Now, here I’m being polite, am I not?

Ah, all the subtleties and nuances of language. I’ve decided to just live and learn, and be prepared to be surprised (pleasantly or not) whenever a native speaker comments on my English usage.

Now can we please take your car? It’s cold out and I just want to go get something warm to drink. So please hurry up already!

[Marcus appreciates this post, but in all honesty he only thought Pi Wen was pleading because it’s such a hassle to drive in and out of our garage. His car is parked outside.]

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