Can est-ce que be used for requests, particularly polite or friendly ones? For instance, does this sound natural?:

Est-ce que tu peux me passer le sel, s'il te plaît ?

  • On sent que l'on cherche à casser la glace. Car le tutoiement sans le "s'te plait" est vraiment typique de ce genre de situation. Ou alors l'interlocuteur est un enfant.
    – Knu
    Oct 22, 2013 at 14:14

1 Answer 1


Est-ce que tu peux me passer le sel, s'il te plaît ?

Yes, this is fine.

Note that there could be (at least) three ways of asking this question:

  1. Est-ce que tu peux me passer le sel, s'il te plaît ?
  2. Peux-tu me passer le sel, s'il te plaît ?
  3. Tu peux me passer le sel, s'il te plaît ? (the latter is more likely to be pronounced faster, "s'te'plaît")

I presume your question is more about the difference between (1) and (2) than between (1) and (3).

All these three variants are fine, but the second can sound a bit more formal. Used with tu, (2) is perfectly acceptable, but may sound slightly over the top (or almost jokingly used to emphasise the request requires more important attention). With a person with whom you can use tu, (1) and (3) are virtually equivalent.

If you're particularly worried about politeness, you should be more concerned about the tu/vous distinction than using "Est-ce que", depending on the person you're talking to.

In a relatively casual dialogue such as asking for salt, these three forms would work well with vous too, although it would certainly be more important to start these sentences with "excusez-moi" (since you're likely to interrupt people you barely know or who aren't part of your current conversation, or more selfishly to grab their attention). I would say "Excusez-moi, vous pouvez me passer le sel, s'il vous plaît ?" is fine, even with strangers, considering that you'd have both "excusez-moi" and "s'il vous plaît"; using "pouvez-vous [...]" wouldn't make a big difference at this stage (even if it is a bit more formal in principle).

  • 3
    "Excusez-moi, vous pouvez me passer le sel, s'il vous plaît ?" Personally in this constuction I'd favor the conditional: "vous pourriez me passer le sel". Great analysis overall!
    – Circeus
    Jul 4, 2012 at 1:29
  • 1
    is there any reason you are using "[...]vous pouvez[...]" instead of "[...]pouvez vous[...]". "vous pouvez" sounds more like an order and would seems odd in my ear. same goes for "vous pourriez", but "pourriez vous" si fine. anyway, I can't think of a single reason where "est-ce que" isn't suitable. you just have to use tu/vous accordingly
    – Mathieu
    Jul 5, 2012 at 18:30
  • @mathroc "Pouvez-vous" is the correct written way. In spoken French, the tendency is to phrase questions as answers, but to raise the tone at the end. In these examples, it's the same as omitting "est-ce que", which isn't unsuitable, but not necessary ("est-ce que" wouldn't work if you had a pronoun as in "Vous mangez quoi?", which is fine in spoken French, but never with "est-ce que"). Depending on the circumstances, it's almost unnatural (at least in France) to use "Pouvez-vous in a casual conversation (even with people you don't know: that's no form of disrespect at all).
    – Bruno
    Jul 5, 2012 at 18:44
  • @Bruno I'm not implying we can't omit "est-ce que". In casual conversation it happens all the time. but if I want to ask someone I'm referring with "vous", I would not omit "est-ce que". yeah "Est-ce que vous mangez quoi?" is totally wrong "Qu'est-ce que vous manger?" would be an alternative (but that not the point of the question). I'm not sure I understand your point of view regarding the use of "pouvez vous" in a casual conversation; is it unnatural or not a form of disrespect at all ? IMHO it's totally natural with people I don't know
    – Mathieu
    Jul 6, 2012 at 9:58
  • @mathroc Indeed, in some circumstances, "vous mangez quoi ?" may sound a bit abrupt with people you don't know (it may have to do with the fact it's a bit of a nosy question). My point is that, for questions that can use "est-ce que", it's fine to omit it, even with people you don't know. However, "Excusez-moi, (est-ce que) vous pouvez [...]" sounds slight more natural than "Excusez-moi, pouvez-vous [...]" in general, when speaking (all of these are correct and none are disrespectful). For politeness, "excusez-moi", "s'il vous plaît" and "pourriez" (as Circeus suggested) matter more.
    – Bruno
    Jul 6, 2012 at 11:13

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