21 September 2023
Consider a time you asked someone to drink tea, coffee, or soda. What kinds of terms and structures did you use?
In this week's Everyday Grammar, we will explore a point of connection between grammar and social situations. We will talk about how to ask others if they would like a drink. You will learn about modals as well as formal and informal kinds of questions.
Let's start with some important terms and ideas.
Modals play a central part in everyday discussions about drinks such as coffee or tea.
Modals are short words that change the meaning of the main verb. They express something about the speaker's attitude – whether something is permitted, necessary, possible, and so on.
In English, we have a number of modals. But for the purposes of today's lesson, let's pay careful attention to two of them: would and can.
We generally use "would" to ask a polite question or make a polite offer. We use "can" for the same purpose, although it is a little less formal.
Let's take an example. Imagine you are in your house or working in a restaurant. You want to offer a drink to your guest or customer. We have two ways to do that – one that involves "would" and one that involves "can."
So, you might ask:
Would you like something to drink?
Can I get you something to drink?
The main difference between our two questions is the degree of politeness. Generally, "would" is considered more polite and formal.
Both "would" and "can" are acceptable in a number of situations. Your house guest or customer would surely be happy to hear either of them.
With friends, classmates, family
Now let us consider a different kind of situation. Maybe you are out with friends and want to ask them to get something to drink. We can make polite offers with "would" and "can," as in:
Would you like to get tea?
Can I get you a coffee?
But we can also use the helping verb "do" to ask yes or no questions. For example, you might ask a friend:
Do you want to get a coffee?
Do you want to grab a drink?
Such structures are friendly but less formal. As a result, you might not want to use them with your teacher or your boss, unless you are very close with them.
Now let's take some time to work with these ideas.
Imagine you are leading a business meeting with representatives from another company. Your visitors enter the meeting room, and you decide you want to offer them something to drink. How might you make your offer?
Pause the audio to consider your answer.
There are several possible answers, but the best two choices involve "would" or "can," as in:
Would you like something drink?
Can I offer you something to drink?
These two sentences are polite and acceptable in official situations.
Now consider the following sentence:
Do you want something to drink?
Why is this sentence not the best choice for an official business meeting?
The question is not very formal nor especially polite. So, "Do you want something to drink?" is probably not the best choice to use with representatives from another company.
But, for family and good friends? That's a question they are usually happy to hear!
Today we explored a few key ideas that connect to everyday situations – inviting someone to get a drink, offering a guest something to drink.
There are, of course, other ways to ask if others want something to drink. However, the structures we explored today are among the most commonly used because they work well in most situations.
I'm John Russell.
John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.
Words in The Story
modal – n. a verb (such as can or would) that is usually used with another verb to express ideas such as possibility, necessity, etc.
formal – adj. suitable for serious or official speech
informal – adj. having a friendly and relaxed quality
grab – verb to get (something) in a quick and informal way
attitude – n. a mental position with regard to a fact or state