The Grammarphobia Blog

Deference mechanism

Q: Why do we begin sentences with “if” when we request something? For example: “If you could line up outside the building …” If what? I seldom hear the ending. Also, here’s a pet peeve of mine – the overuse of “amazing.” I’ve determined that nothing is actually amazing because everything is amazing.

A: My opinion is that when people use “if” instead of “please” to ask others to do something, it reflects shyness, timidity, or deference on their part.

Often this kind of timid request is accompanied by a rising, questioning inflection at the end: “If you could just move a bit to one side?”

The unspoken part of the sentence is probably something like “…. I’d really appreciate it.”

I think this kind of request indicates an unwillingness (or an inability) to come right out and ask.

As for “amazing,” you’re not the first to complain to me about the overuse of this word, which has grown to amazing proportions!

I think it’s replaced “awesome” as the adjective du jour, and it will probably be replaced by something else when it loses its du jour-ness.

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