"May I help you?": 10 ways to make offers in English (from formal to casual) (AUDIO+GIFs)



"Kindness starts at home." This is a popular proverb, and it simply means that if we want the world to be a kinder place, we have to start making positive changes in our own homes first. Another way of thinking about this proverb is to say "kindness starts with you."


One of the ways we can show kindness is by offering to help the people in our lives. That's what this page is truly about. Whether you want to offer to help a grandparent walk up a flight of stairs (meaning, a set of steps), or you just want to offer to take someone's coat when they enter your home, these phrases are meant to help you be a better helper.


So, let's get to it (meaning, let's not waste any time). Here are 10 ways to make offers in English, from the most formal way to the most casual.


1. SHALL I...?

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"Shall I get you some tea?"

"Shall I dial his number for you?"

This is very formal and not common in most circumstances. However, you might hear it in British television shows such as Downton Abbey. There is an element of asking for the other person's permission, as if you are saying "I would like to get you some tea. May I?" Shall we continue?...



2. ALLOW ME TO...

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"Please, allow me to take your coat."

"Allow me to introduce you to my wife."


This is also quite formal. The person who makes an offer with this phrase is not giving you much choice in the matter. They are asking for your permission to do something that they will probably do regardless of your personal desire. "Let me" is more common in everyday speech, and is used in the same way.



3. MAY I...?

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"May I get you something to drink?"

"May I offer you a seat?"


This is courteous but neutral. You will hear this at dinner parties, but it is not often used between close friends. Use it with acquaintances, neighbours, and people whom you know, but whom you are not as close with.



4. WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO...?

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"Would you like me to open the windows?"

"Would you like me to prepare a bath for you?"


You are offering YOUR services with this phrase. You are asking if the other person would like YOU to do something. This is polite and can be used in a variety of common scenarios, such as the ones above. "Do you want me to...?" is the informal equivalent.



5. WOULD YOU LIKE...?

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"Would you like some more?"

"Would you like to sit down? I don't mind standing."


This is the most neutral way to offer something to someone. If you are not sure about the level of formality you should use, this is a safe option. You might hear it at fast food drive-thru windows, as one of the employees asks, "Would you like fries with that?"



6. CAN I...?

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"Can I take something off your hands?" (Perhaps the other person is carrying a lot of bags when they enter your home.)

"Can I get you anything else?"


This is the informal equivalent of "May I...?" It is common among friends and people you know well, but it is also common to hear it in restaurants, the service industry, and in public in general.



7. DO YOU WANT...? / DO YOU NEED...?

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"Do you want a blanket? You look cold." "Do you need any help?"


This is the informal equivalent of "Would you like...?" It is extremely common among friends, couples, co-workers, and people who are familiar with one another. In quick casual speech, the "do" is often dropped as well. Here are two common offers with these phrases: "You want one?" "You need a hand?"



8. LET ME...

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"Let me take that for you." "Let me know if you have any questions."


Just like "Allow me," "Let me" often does not give the other person much of a choice in the outcome. There are exceptions, of course, as in the second example above (a very common email sentence). In cases where a person offers to do something for you with "let", they have every intention of doing what they are offering to do.



9. HAVE ONE. / HAVE SOME.

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"These cookies are delicious. Have one." "You need to try this soup. Here. Have some."


This is common among friends. It is an imperative, and it is still possible to say "no." You can make this more polite by saying "Please, have one," or "Have some, please." This can sound a little desperate depending on the context, but it's usually quite safe to say. You can also specify what you want the other person to have. For instance, "Have some chocolate," or "Here. Have an apple."



10. TAKE ONE. / TAKE SOME.

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"These are great. Here. Take one." "Take more than one. You can give some to your friends."


This person is inviting you to take something from them. This is the most direct way to offer something to someone, and is very similar to "have one" and "have some." Just like those imperatives, you can specify what you want the other person to take. For example, "Take some food for home," or "Take a pamphlet."


Practice

Use your imagination to complete the following offers. Feel free to write your examples in the comments.

Shall I...? Allow me to... May I...? Would you like me to...? Would you like...? Can I get you...? Do you want...? Let me... Have a... Take some...


Bonus information

Just two more things before we finish.


It's common to say "Here you go," "There you go," "Here you are," or "There you are" after you give something to someone. For instance, if someone asks you to pass the salt or the butter at the dinner table, you can pass it to them and say "Here you go," or any of the other three sentences mentioned.


Finally, here are some common questions you can ask to offer your service to someone.


"How may I be of service (to you)?" (very formal) "How may I help you?" / "May I help you (with anything/something)?" (polite)

"Is there anything I can do for you?" (neutral)

"Is there anything I can help you with?" (neutral) "What can I do for you?" (neutral)

"What can I get you?" (neutral, usually used in restaurants or by party hosts) "How can I help you?" / "Can I help you (with anything/something)?" (neutral)


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