Statements, Requests and Commands

Being a parent is a learning experience. A common theme while parenting is teaching your kids to be better communicators. In trying to teach my kids I am often forced to learn and re-learn concepts until I find the best way to explain something to them. Recently I had an educational encounter with my 4 year when I was trying to get him to ask for something, while I was at it I threw in a politeness lesson as well. :) ...

You may have seen this yourselves - someone says, "I want something" but you would prefer they say, "Could you get me something. Either of those statements is preferrable to, "Give me something." So why does one make more you want to act more than the other? Is it politeness?

A simple politeness test would be to add the word please to each sentence. For a litte clarity let's make the word something a tangible object.

  1. I want some chips please.
  2. Could you get me some chips please?
  3. Get me some chips please.

I don't know about you but the first and third sentences do not make much sense. The word please has been shortened over the long years of language evolution from if you please. In french, s'il vous plait is often translated as just please but it really is closer to if you please. For examination purposes let's see those sentences again in long form( and moved around a little ).

  1. If you please, I want some chips.
  2. If you please, would you get me some chips?
  3. If you please, get me some chips.

I think that translation makes it a little clearer, the word please does not make one sentence clearer than another. Sentence one is a statement. Sentence two is a request. Sentence three is a command.

A statement just lets you know some data. When my son says I want some chips he has given me some data. I could use that data and get him some chips but no request was made so I'm not clear he would like me to take any action.

A request is a question. As with all non-rhetorical questions it is looking for a response of some kind. If my son makes a request for me to get him some chips I can respond by getting chips, telling him to wait for a moment and I will get them, telling him no( because they are junk food ) or a plethora of other responses. In this situation he has allowed me the opportunity to choose a response.

If my son tells me to get him chips he is making a command. A command is interesting because it is a statement of what you need to do or face the consequences. So it still puts the ball in the other person's court, similar to a request, but it is expecting a certain response. This doesn't work well for my son because the only consequence is him being angry with me for a few minutes( if that ).

Keeping a long story long, or rather getting back to a short story, I made these distinctions for my son. He seemed to get it. The first thing he said to me this morning was, "Daddy, will you please get me some pineapple?"

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