Asking a favor in Spanish

Asking for a favor can be a delicate task. Do it wrong and you can damage an otherwise healthy relationship. Since it’s important to express yourself not only correctly but sensitively when asking a favor, let’s look at some functional language that is useful for doing this in Spanish.

Prefacing

Before introducing sensitive topics, we often do something called prefacing. We alert the listener about the topic coming up rather than jumping right in. This seems to soften the blow and make the listener more open to what we have to say. Asking a favor is a typical communicative function where prefacing works well. In English, we might preface the asking of favor by saying something like ‘Hey, I was wondering if …’ rather than jumping right into the request. Or: ‘Say, I wanted to ask you if …’

Virgen de Guadalupe, Iztapalapa, Mexico City

Virgen de Guadalupe, Iztapalapa, Mexico City

In Spanish you can preface a request with something like oye.

  • Oye, mi hermana viene de visita y te quería preguntar si me prestas tu colchón inflable. Hey, my sister’s coming to visit and I wanted to ask if you would loan me your inflatable mattress.

Simple present

Notice the use of past in the request (quería) above to create a polite distance. Another example: ¿Podrías ayudarme con algo? or even ¿Crees que podrías ayudarme con algo? This use of past tense (not past meaning) is optional but common when making requests.

It’s also possible to use simple present, especially for minor favors where you expect the other person to grant your request as a matter of courtesy.

  • ¿Me pasas la sal? Could you pass the salt?

This sounds a bit softer and more polite than a command form like ‘pásame la sal’, even if you add ‘por favor’. Again, this use of present interrogative is common when making a perfunctory request.

Formality

You’ll want to adjust the level of formality used in your request to the situation at hand. In school I was taught to make a polite request by saying Tenga la bondad de, meaning, ‘please have the kindness to’ do something. In reality this is excessively formal and it’s hard to think of a situation where this would be appropriate. Stick with language that is at the right level of formality for the situation.

Echarle la mano

For a neutral, even informal, way to ask for help, there’s echarle la mano.

  • ¿Me echas la mano con esto? Could you give me a hand with this?

No seas malito

A counterintuitive but useful expression for asking someone to help you out, even ‘cut you some slack’, is no sea(s) malito/a, literally: don’t be bad.

  • No seas malito. Espérame tantito, ¿no? Give me a sec to get ready.

If you’re thinking of the English translation, no seas malito may seem harsh-sounding to you, but in Spanish it’s appropriate for any small request where you will minorly inconvenience the other person and/or are asking for some tolerance or leeway.

¡Ándale!

Ándale is another informal ‘begging’ word you’ll hear at times. You can say it when you’ve asked for something and you can see that the other person is hesitating about whether to grant your request or not.

  • ¡Ándale! Pretty please!
  • ¡Ándale! No seas malito. Be a dear and help me out here.

Ándale has several other communicative uses, but the idea of ‘please, do this for me’ is one of the most common ones. It’s important to get the intonation (pronunciation) right. Extend the first syllable, falling a bit in pitch.

Ándale

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