Ask for permission in French
There are very simple ways to ask permission to do something. There are also more advanced ways to ask for permission if you want to give yourself the best chance!
Nothing is simpler than the affirmative sentence
This form of questioning is mainly used orally because it is not grammatically correct. It is very simple to use: an affirmative sentence is used!
"Je pourrais ouvrir la fenêtre ?" (🇺🇸 Could I open the window?)
“Je peux prendre cette chaise ?” (🇺🇸 Can I take this chair?)
In order for the person you are speaking with to understand that it is a question, remember to use a rising intonation, just like in English (say these sentences out loud: "May I open the window?", "Can I take this chair?").
This very slightly familiar formula is suitable for the vast majority of interlocutors, except perhaps for a superior or a notable person.
Still using the affirmative sentence, you can ask for permission by expressing a wish, in the manner of the English "I would like to...". For example: "I'd like to sit on the corridor side", "I'd like to park here".
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“Est-ce que” (🇺🇸 Is that)
In a more sustained register, but still equivalent to "May I ?" in English, let's simply add "Est-ce que" to our affirmative sentence.
"Can I sit here?"
A little pronunciation advice, contract the formula by not pronouncing the "e" in the middle: "esskeu". You will speak like a native Frenchman!
With this form of questioning, the subject and the verb are reversed:
“Puis-je partir à 20 heures ?” “Pourrais-je m’asseoir avec vous ?” (🇺🇸 Can I leave at 8 p.m.?, Could I sit with you?)
Inversion is very common in writing, but frequently avoided in speaking because it is somewhat outdated, although quite proper and polite.
Ça vous dérange ? (Do you mind ?)
Let us be benevolent and ask our interlocutor if our action bothers him. They may be more likely to give us the answer we want!
“Ça vous dérange si je mange ?” (🇺🇸 Do you mind if I eat?)
“Ça ne vous embête pas si je monte le son ?” (🇺🇸 Do you mind if I turn this up?)
“Ça ne vous ennuie pas que je passe avant vous ?” (🇺🇸 Do you mind if I go before you?)
Respecting the rules
With the following formulas, you ensure that you do not break the rules.
You can use the verbs "autoriser" (🇺🇸 allow) or "permettre" (🇺🇸 permitted) :
“Les chiens sont permis ?”, ou bien “Fumer est-il autorisé ?” (🇺🇸 Are dogs allowed?", or "Is smoking allowed?)
In the same vein, “J’ai le droit ?” (🇺🇸 Do I have the right ?) : “J’ai le droit de pique niquer ici ?” (🇺🇸 Are picnics allowed here ?).
Add a greeting
Let's add a little more courtesy to our request with a greeting. Here's how to do it:
"Pardon Madame (🇺🇸 Excuse me, Madam), j’ai le droit de prendre des photos ?” (🇺🇸 I'm allowed to take pictures?)
"S’il vous plaît (🇺🇸 Please) do not hesitate to contact us., can I order?"
"Excusez-moi (🇺🇸 Excuse me), I'd like to know if I can leave for five minutes, please ?"
As you can see, "s’il vous plaît" (🇺🇸 please) can be included at the beginning or at the end of your request.
A word about "tu" or "vous" in French.
Difficult to understand for English speakers who only have the pronoun "you" at their disposal, tutoiement means "tu" and vouvoiement means "vous" to a single person.
"Vous" is the pronoun to choose when addressing a stranger, a neighbor or a supervisor. "Tu" is to be reserved for friends and family. When in doubt, choose "vous" to avoid sounding rude or awkward.
When you are close to someone, "s'il vous plaît" becomes "s'il te plaît", "excusez-moi" becomes "excuse-moi" and "ça vous dérange ?", "ça te dérange?".