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Conversational Language (#18), by Dennis Oliver

 

Conversational Language (#18):
Getting Someone's Attention

 

It's often necessary to get someone's attention--for example,
when you need to ask directions or ask for help. Here are
several different ways to do this:

 

Very Polite

I beg your pardon, sir.

I beg your pardon, ma'am.

 

Polite

Excuse me, sir.

Excuse me, ma'am.

 

Friendly

Excuse me.

 

Casual

(Name?)

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In all the situations above, the person you are speaking to
will probably say "Yes?" or something similar. After that,
tell the person what you need:

A:

B:

A:

 

I beg your pardon, ma'am (sir). 

Yes?

I wonder if you could tell me how to get to
the corner of Elm and 44th Streets.

     

A:

B:

A:

 

Excuse me, sir (ma'am).

Yes?

Could you tell me how to get to the corner
of Elm and 44th Streets?

     

A:

B:

A:

 

Excuse me.

Yes?

Can you tell me how to get to the corner of
Elm and 44th Streets?

     

A:

B:

A:

 

Bob?

Yes?

Do you know how to get to the corner of
Elm and 44th Streets?

Note that the name is said with question
(rising) intonation.

 

Special Note:

Note that sir is used for men and ma'am is used for women
when you do not know a man's or woman's name. You can
also use a title + a name in polite situations:

I beg your pardon, Mrs. Smith. /
I beg your pardon, Professor Jones.

Excuse me, Mr. Johnson. /
Excuse me, Ms. Thompson.

 

Do not, however, use mister or lady instead of sir or
ma'am. Both of these terms are considered impolite.

 

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A Special Meaning and Situation: Hey!

 

The expression Hey! is also used to get someone's attention,
but only when you are upset. For this reason, Hey! is said
with strong feeling and it is not appropriate in situations
which are polite or friendly.

Hey! is something like a warning, but it is only used to get
someone's attention about something that is wrong. To warn
someone in a helpful way, use other expressions--such as

Look out!

Be careful!

Watch out!

 

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