Polite English: Is it important?

(This article is a collaboration between Leandra King, founder of this blog English with Leandra and author of The Culture Sensitive Phrasebook, and Dylan Gates of British English Coach and creator of the course Master Polite English.)


Polite English: does it matter? Does it really matter if you are polite in English or not?

How does being impolite or not polite enough affect you?

These are questions that will be answered in this blog post. However, before we can even begin to discuss the importance of politeness in English, we first need to establish what exactly constitutes politeness.


What is politeness?

According to the Oxford online dictionary, politeness is defined as “behaviour that is respectful and considerate of other people”. The Merriam Webster online dictionary goes on to show that being polite is “having or showing good manners or respect for other people” or being “socially correct or proper”.

It is important to note that standards of politeness vary from culture to culture, even among some English-speaking countries. Therefore, what is polite in your culture might not necessarily be polite in English-speaking countries.

Politeness involves many aspects of our daily lives. In what we say, we can show politeness by being considerate and sensitive to other persons’ feelings.


Question 1: Why is it important to be polite in English?


“Polite English is crucial to helping you fit in with native English speakers and feel integrated when you live or work with them.

By using polite English, you will be able to have a good rapport and form better relationships with your English speaking colleagues and friends.  On the other hand,  if you are impolite or not polite enough in English, you could be seen as the ‘rude foreigner’ and persons would be less likely to want to be around you. This might lead to you feeling alone or isolated.”



“First impressions count, which is why you need to make a good impression when you meet somebody for the first time. While it’s important to be friendly and open, you should also show respect to the other person, and being polite is the way to do so.

Politeness varies between cultures. You do what is expected in the other culture; you don’t try to invade personal space, and you make the other person feel comfortable and secure.

In short, you should observe and learn how people use politeness to build and maintain relationships and then try to do the same yourself.

When we are polite, we don’t invade their personal space and we give the other person the opportunity to decide if they want to get to know us or not. If we are too informal or too friendly, the other person may think we are being rude, because we are trying to build a relationship too quickly, which puts the other person under pressure. This makes them feel uncomfortable, which may mean that they do not want to continue talking to you.”


Question 2: Why are many non-native speakers not aware of these mistakes?


“Unfortunately, polite English is an area that is often overlooked in English classes at school. It’s true that you learn the basics such as “please, thank you and excuse me”. However, polite English goes much deeper than that.

In English classes, the aim is linguistic fluency: being able to express yourself which involves having a broad vocabulary and mastering grammar.

However, there is a different type of fluency that often is not taught. That is what I like to refer to as cultural fluency. So that’s why there are some persons who have an advanced level of English or near-native fluency but they still don’t fit in or feel integrated with their native speaking colleagues and friends because they don’t understand the cultural aspect – being more sensitive and tactful in what they say in English.”



“Many English learners struggle to communicate effectively with native English speakers. They have a strong awareness of grammatical structures and a wide range of vocabulary, but they are not aware of what is appropriate in specific situations. What may be appropriate in your culture may not be appropriate in another culture. Which is why you need to become aware of the sociocultural aspects of communication in English.

The sociocultural aspects of using English for communication are not often taught in English courses. Many learners study grammar rules but are not shown how to communicate effectively in real-life situations. In fact, many learners with weak grammar skills are more effective communicators than more advanced learners because they have stronger social skills. Native speakers will forgive your grammar mistakes, but may not forgive impoliteness!”

Question 3: How can unintentionally being impolite or not polite enough affect you?


“Being impolite or not polite enough can affect the way you are perceived by native English speakers and in turn affect the way you are treated. Unfortunately, you might start to notice that native English speakers’ attitudes towards you might become colder and more standoffish.”



In English, we use the expression: ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry.’ Using polite English is usually a safe option when you are expected to use English with people you don’t know very well. Most native and proficient speakers of English will respond in a positive way if you speak politely because it shows that you are being considerate and respectful. This is especially important in formal situations in which it’s very common to say the wrong thing without realising your mistake.



I hope you found our answers helpful. But we’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m sure you have more questions about polite English. For example:

What are some things to avoid doing if you don’t want to be seen as rude?

How can you be more polite in English?

Check out The Culture Sensitive Phrasebook and the accompanying workbook to learn expressions you need to use if you want to be more polite in English and avoid offending native English speakers.







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