Polite Words and Phrases

Students carrying books in library
You're more approachable when you use polite language. Seb Oliver/Image Source/Getty Images

Have you ever been around someone who motivates you to become a better person? Typically, that person is polite in all respects, including the way he or she speaks.

Polite Phrases

Most people learn the importance of the magic words "please" and "thank you" at a very early age. As you go through life, you see that better things happen when you don't forget to say them. 

Foul Language

Foul language has been around forever, but it has never been more widely used than it is now.

What's sad is that it shows a lack of respect for people who don't speak that way. Many older people find it offensive, and most parents don't want their children cursing or using words that were once considered socially unacceptable.

Language Etiquette

Proper etiquette goes way beyond how to set a table for a formal dinner and proper use of utensils. It's even more than knowing how to shake hands with someone you've just met. Good manners should be incorporated into every aspect of your life, including what you say during the most informal of times. 

Pet Peeves

An occasional slip-up happens to most people, so apologize and move on. However, if you have formed habits such as saying, "No problem," after being thanked, you might want to rethink that because those words don't make sense in the context of the conversation. When someone says, "Thank you," she's not stating a problem. "You're welcome," is much more appropriate.

Never Too Late

Even if you haven't used these polite words and phrases all your life, it's never too late to start. Practice holding polite conversations with family and close friends until you're comfortable. Eventually, speaking politely will become second nature to you.

Common Polite Words and Phrases

Here are some of the most common words and phrases that anyone who cares about proper etiquette should incorporate into their everyday language:

  • Please – This is one of those words that can show good manners or come across as sarcastic, based on your tone. Any time you ask for something, it's always a good idea to add this word to soften the request.
  • You're welcome – When someone says, "Thank you," your instant response should be, "You're welcome," "You're certainly welcome," or some variation that feels comfortable to you. Another way to express the same thought is, "I was happy to do it," or, "My pleasure."
  • Thank you – When someone does something nice for you or gives you a gift, you should always say, "Thank you." Not doing so gives the impression that you feel entitled to whatever it is, and that can leave a sour taste in a mannerly person's mouth.
  • May I – The phrase "may I" puts you on the same side as the person you are speaking to. It gives the other person the feeling that you empathize, without your having to say that. For example, when you say, "May I see that book?" you give the person an opportunity to share what she is looking at.
  • Excuse me – This is an acknowledgment that you are asking forgiveness for leaving the table, coughing, or otherwise disrupting something you are engaged in.
  • Pardon me – This phrase is interchangeable with "excuse me." Pardon me sounds more formal.
  • I beg your pardon – Some people, particularly those who learned manners from Southern belle moms, would never have said, "What?" when asking someone to repeat what they'd just said. I was always told that "I beg your pardon" was much more polite and less harsh. The origin of this phrase makes me smile because it means to release someone from punishment.
  • I'm sorryWhen you make a mistake, hurt someone's feelings, or do something that you know you shouldn't have done, saying, "I'm sorry," is always the first thing you should say. You're letting the other person know you regret having done whatever it was.

Words and phrases that need to be eradicated from your vocabulary:

  • No problem – When I thank someone, and that person in turn says, "No problem," I cringe. Even though it's the contemporary way of saying, "You're welcome," it seems abrupt and makes no sense in this context.
  • Yep, yeah, and nope – These words are rude versions of "yes" and "no." The proper words are only one syllable, so why not simply use them?
  • Any curse words – Curse words might have been used originally for shock value, but when they become part of your everyday language, they make you sound crude and may offend people who don't use them. It's best to not use any words you wouldn't want your mom or grandmother to hear. If they use those words, maybe you can set an example for how to speak politely.
  • Any words that are derogatory to a specific group, sexist, or racist – Derogatory language shows a lack of respect for others.