I often find myself starting sentences with phrases like "I just want to let you know that", "I would like to ask if", "I am writing to discuss", or "I was wondering if" in emails. I could simply just let them know something or ask what I wanted to ask without these phrases.

For some reasons, it feels more polite to not directly say what I want to say.

Is there a merit to the politeness argument?

I originally asked this on english.stackexchange, but I was told that interpersonal.stackexchange is a better forum for this question.

Edit: I think the original question was not clear, so here is what I am asking:

Is it true that starting sentences with such leading phrases makes the email sound more polite?

To be more clear, I live and work in the U.S., but grew up in a different country. I cannot tell if my reluctance to write direct sentences comes from my cultural background, or it is actually more polite in the U.S. to use these phrase.

  • 2
    I disagree that this is a duplicate. That question is asking about pleasantries, not the level of politeness.
    – sphennings
    Mar 15, 2018 at 17:58

3 Answers 3


A lot of this depends on your audience and relationship. With close friends, it's OK to jump into the meat of the conversation. "We need to talk about sharing money for groceries next time we play D&D". But even that sounds somewhat overly direct.

Keep in mind that it is impossible to read nuance into your written conversation and your readers will apply their current mindset to your writing. If they're angry about something, odds are that they will apply what they're angry about to your writing.

I completely agree with you that starting with these sentences is more polite and I'd especially recommend it in the workplace. Picture these two e-mails: "Boss, I want to make you aware of something. Marketing has called me at home at 7 at night twice this week. I'd like this to stop." That, to me, sounds much better than sending my boss an e-mail that reads "Marketing has called me at home at 7 at night twice this week. I'd like this to stop".

The first clearly tells your boss why you're writing. The second opens with the problem, and sounds like you're complaining and dumping it in the boss' lap to solve it. Quite frankly, if I got the second e-mail, I'd meet with the employee and want more clarification. Why are you telling me this? What are you unhappy about? Are you demanding I do something about this?

Not only is it more polite, it clues your reader into why you're writing. With an impersonal communication, this is critical. Otherwise you allow the reader to create their own assumption about the purpose of your e-mail, which will most likely be wrong and could be catastrophically wrong.


In an American setting, indirectness in emails that very clearly have a point reflect poorly on their author because they suggest you have a lack of confidence. They suggest that you are unsure if your email is acceptable to the recipient so you want to either justify sending the email or saying what you chose to say. It is the digital corollary to "phone anxiety."

Compare these two emails.

Hi Emily, I just wanted to let you know that while I was discombobulating the widgets I discovered a loose jam nut. I fixed it, so it's no problem, but I want us to keep an eye out for it in the future. We might want to think about how we can prevent this from happening again. Maybe we can bring this to the assemblers' attention.

Compare with:

Emily, I would like us to schedule a meeting with the assembly foreman when you have an opening. Yesterday I fixed another loose jam nut while discombobulating widgets, so this appears to be a chronic issue. We should nip this in the bud before the next shipment.

The second email is clearly better. Why? Everyone already knows your job involves discombobulating widgets, everyone knows that loose jam nuts are not acceptable, everyone knows that chronic problems need to be fixed. The first email asks, "Do you think it is appropriate to fix a problem we found?" when everyone know that of course it is. The second email gets to the point about what it would look like for Emily to do her part in solving the problem.

What if Emily thinks we shouldn't talk to the assembly foreman? What if she was running a test that caused a small portion of widgets to have loose jam nuts? She will tell you! You don't have to do her job for her, you just have to do your job, and it is your job to fix the problem you are trying to fix.


Politeness is the lubrication that makes social interactions flow smoothly. Like with lubricating a bearing, too much or too little politeness will reduce its effectiveness.

If you are too polite and indirect you can come across as insincere, and can make unclear what your needs are, and how significant something is to you.

If you aren't polite enough you run the risk of antagonizing whomever you are communicating with, reducing the likeliness that they will help you now or in the future.

You have to strike a balance. There isn't an single politeness level that is effective for all situations. If this is some sort of regular communication, try to match the politeness of what other people are doing. When in doubt, choose the more polite option, but don't let politeness reduce the clarity of the message.

A good way to strike a balance is to have a general but polite ask like: "I was wondering if you could answer a few questions." or "I would like to fill you in on a few things." Then be clear and blunt with the actual points you are trying to make.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.