I like to say please sometimes when I want to be polite to someone when asking them for something. Is this customary in Mandarin?

For example, if I wanted to ask for some water, I might ask my friend Li, in English, "would you please pour me some water?" In Mandarin, I only know to say wo xiang he shui, xie xie. Also, I'm aware that saying thank you to a Chinese person can sometimes create a feeling of distance, and sometimes that is undesirable.

So, Chinese people, and speakers, how do you politely ask for things, and how do you receive a statement such as "wo xiang he shui, xie xie"? Does it come off as rude in any way?

PS - sorry I don't have chinese input on this device, but I think fluent speakers will know what I mean.

  • Finding the golden balance of politeness in any language is far more than sentence structure or word choice. Attitude, style, facial expressions and body language are all important factors and of course there are culture aspect and regional differences. To be honest, politeness in the language itself is the last thing I'd examine when I try to read the intention of a foreigner speaking Chinese.
    – NS.X.
    May 15, 2013 at 22:51

3 Answers 3


Politeness in Mandarin is expressed by using different politeness elements, which include politeness characters, wording or manner of speaking. Usualy one element is enough in one sentence, because using 2+ elements in the same sentence may sound too polite, causing a feeling of distance.

Would you please pour me some water? 请给我倒些水好吗?

Note: it is different from 我想喝水. Because 我想喝水 is not a request. If you tell me you want to drink some water, I will think, ok, no problem, go ahead and get some water for yourself, as you didn't ask me to get some water for you.

When making a request in Chinese, usualy we don't say 谢谢. Instead, we say 谢谢 when the request is either accepted or fulfilled.

A:您能帮我给他带个口信嘛? B:可以。A:谢谢。---Request accepted but not fulfilled yet.

A:请给我倒杯水好嘛? B:给你。A:多谢。---Request fulfilled。

Here are some examples of making polity requests in Mandarin:

您能帮我个忙嘛? ---Politeness character 您 is an equivalent personal pronoun of 你 in Chinese showing your repect for others, including the elder, your superiors, and so on.

请帮我个忙。---Politeness character 请 is used here to show politeness when asking for a favor

我看,也只有你能帮我这个忙了。 ---Wording, which makes a request indirectly.

帮帮忙吧。 ---Manner of speaking, in a supplicatory way.

可怜可怜我们母子俩吧。---Wording + manner of speaking, which instigates pity.

By the way, the following are the expressions to use when someone says 谢谢/多谢 to you:

别客气 / 甭客气 / 不用客气 / 客气啥 / 太客气了 / 没事儿 / 见外啦 and a lot more.

  • Slightly more formal than “请给我倒些水,好吗?” is “请为我倒些水,好吗?”
    – Frenzy Li
    Jun 12, 2018 at 6:24

I am surprised nobody has brought up the use of 麻烦.

The term 麻烦 could be loosely translated to "could I perhaps trouble you to..." (in the context of politeness of course). It is used to politely request things.

For example,


("Could I trouble you to send me the code before we get off work?")


I think this question should be discussed on a higher level, maybe the culture kernel values.

As for a westerner, human-oriented culture make English experssion always start with a first person view, more directly and straight.

But in china, as be brought up with the belief, everyone should put others' benefits ahead of our own. So in the same case, we may say"can you give me a cup of water?", means you may not if it's not convenient for you.

Others will not blame you for this kind of trivial things, its part of tradition education belief in China. So relax and don't need to push yourself too hard.

  • 1
    Erm, in English you could say `Could you please be so kind as to ...'
    – user58955
    Jan 26, 2014 at 19:57
  • 1
    @user58955 Sheychu is making a point about this. In English the "could you please be so kind" form makes a show of politeness and even lends itself to sarcastic use. The form "I'd like" is more relaxed and normal. In Chinese usage, Sheychu says, starting with "I" is more abrupt and starting with "you" is normal. Feb 8, 2015 at 15:42

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