May I sit here? Asking for and giving permission.

by Liz Walter​
We often find ourselves in situations where we need to ask for permission or to reply to people who ask us for permission. Here are some words and phrases to help you do this in a natural way.

The simplest way to ask for permission is with the modal verb can:

Can I sit here?

Can we come in, please?

In a more formal situation, where you want to be very polite, you can use may:

May I borrow your pen?

May we look at the documents?

If you are asking about something that might have an effect on the person you are asking, you could say ‘Do you mind if …?’:

Do you mind if I open the window?

In everything except the most formal situations, you can also say Is it OK if …?:

Is it OK if I bring a friend? 

If you are not sure whether something is permitted, you can say Are we allowed to …?:

Are we allowed to take photos?

Of course, we also ask for permission in more indirect ways:

Is this seat taken?

Are these sandwiches for us?

There are several polite ways of giving permission. You can simply say ‘Yes.’ but it is more friendly and enthusiastic to say ‘Yes, of course.’

In an informal situation you could say Sure!,OK.’, ‘Yes, go ahead.’, Feel free!’, No problem!’ or ‘That’s fine by me.’

When someone has asked if they can have something, especially food, we can say Help yourself!’

In a slightly more formal situation, you could say ‘Certainly!’,  ‘Of course.’ ‘Please do.’ or  ‘By all means.’

When we refuse permission, it is possible to say No.’ or ‘No you can’t.’ but this sounds very rude. Therefore we usually try to soften the refusal by saying sorry or I’m afraid:

Sorry, this seat’s already taken.

No, I’m afraid we don’t allow dogs in here.

I’m sorry but I don’t have room for another guest.

Sometimes we give people permission even though we don’t really want to. To show this, you can say I suppose so or even ‘If you must.’ A phrase which doesn’t sound so negative, but still isn’t particularly encouraging is ‘If you like.’

Another thing we often do is to put conditions on our permission:

‘Can I watch TV, Mum?’ ‘Not until you’ve done your homework.’

‘Are we allowed to eat in here?’ ‘Only if you don’t make a mess.’

‘Is it OK if I eat this ham?’ ‘Not unless you pay for it, no.’

14 thoughts on “May I sit here? Asking for and giving permission.

  1. Jawad

    This blog gives excellent information to improve mutual understanding in different circumstances with different people.

  2. Macca


    One was fortunate enough to have the guidance of linguistic artisans as a wee tacker; if one were to ask as a child, ” can I sit here?” The reply would have been a swift, I don’t know, Can you?

    Really guys, “can” in this context, is a doing word, that can be done without permission!

    “Permission” and “doing” are two totally different verbal actions.



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