Why never to ask questions using ‘¿Es posible…?’

Well, because it's horrendously unnatural - that's why

Bad news, Spanish learners. There are few more effective ways to let people know that your language skills aren’t up to much than by asking questions using the phrase: ¿Es posible…? (e.g. ¿Es posible pagar?, ¿Es posible llamarme un taxi? etc., etc.)

To us, this might sound like the height of politeness; rather like saying “Would it be possible to pay?” or “Would you mind terribly calling me a taxi?”. Unfortunately, to a native speakers’ ears it isn’t so much polite as, well, downright strange.

This is mainly because it sounds like you are merely musing philosophically about the theoretical possibility of a payment being made, or a taxi being called, as opposed to making a direct request. These questions would translate closer to the English “is it within the realms of physical possibility that a taxi be called?”, rather than our intended meaning of “Could you call me a taxi please?”.

With a small amount of rephrasing, we get out of the arena of such lofty musings, and get ourselves right back into the here and now.

What to say instead

In our experience, there are two main situations when you might be tempted to use this question format. The first is when you are trying to find out if something is permitted or physical feasible; such as to ask whether “it is possible” to swim in the river, or to drink the local water.

The most natural way to ask these questions is by using ¿Se puede…? (“Can you/one…?”) e.g. ¿Se puede nadar en el río? and ¿Se puede tomar el agua aquí?.

The second is when asking for other people’s help to do something, like in the taxi and payment examples above. For these circumstances, you have a wealth of alternative options that’ll allow you to eradicate ¿Es posible…? altogether.

To ask such questions in a much more natural sounding manner, try any of the sentence structures outlined below (arranged in ascending order of formality/politeness):

Llámame un taxi por fa

“Call me a taxi would you?”.

The most informal way to ask for something and is best reserved for people you know well. Imagine, for example, a girl frantically running around her house trying to get ready for her class, which starts in five minutes’ time.

Looking rather stressed she shouts out to her mum, Mami, llámame un taxi por fa, que voy a llegar muy tarde (“Ma, call me a taxi would you? I’m gonna be really late”).

¿Me llamas un taxi por favor?

“Can you call me a taxi please?”.

This simple way of making requests is by far the most common. At first glance, it seems that the question is missing a verb i.e. the “can” bit of “can you call me a taxi?”. However, native speakers apparently don’t share our views as this question format is disgustingly popular.

A few examples illustrate how this works: after getting into a taxi you could say to the driver: ¿Me llevas al estadio por favor? (“Can you take me to the stadium please?”); if thirsty at the dinner table you might say to the person next to you: ¿Me pasas el agua por favor? (“Can you pass the water please?”); and when ordering food at a restaurant: ¿Me das el pollo por favor? (“Can I get the chicken please?”).

¿Me puedes llamar un taxi (por favor)?

“Could you call me a taxi please?”.

A very similar, though perhaps marginally more polite, version of the above.

¿Me podrías llamar un taxi (por favor)?

“Would you mind calling me a taxi?”.

Questions asked in this way are one notch higher on the scale of formality. To make it more polite still, remove the “s” from the end of podrías i.e. me podría llamar….

¿Será que me puede(s) llamar un taxi?

“Would it be possible to call me a taxi?”.

A good way to phrase requests when you think you’re really pushing your luck with things.

Say, for instance, that you’ve asked a friend to lend you some cash, and then immediately afterwards you remember you actually need to borrow a load more. When asking for the additional money you’d do well to do to say, a bit sheepishly: ¿Será que me puedes prestar otro 100 pesos? (“Do you think you might possibly lend me another 100 pesos?”). If you just said ¿me das otro 100 por fa? you might find your friend would suddenly be in a much less charitable mood.

¿Sería tan amable de llamarme un taxi?

“Would you be so kind as to call me a taxi?”.

A more fancy formulation that is usually reserved for all but the most formal occasions. Staff in an upmarket hotel might talk to you in this way, for instance, or you might see it in official letters, work emails and the like.

Because it is so very stiff, it doubles up nicely as a way to make sarcastic requests (roughly like how we might say “pretty please, with sugar on top” in English).

For example, you might joke with a ‘close-talking’ friend: ¿Sería tan amable de no escupirme cuando me habla? (“Would you be so terribly kind as to not spit at me when you talk?”). A Spanish-speaking mother could also tell off her messy teenage boy by saying: ¿Sería tan amable de quitarse esos zapatos sucios antes de entrar a la casa? (“Would you be so terribly kind as to take off those dirty shoes before coming into the house?”).

So, though ¿es posible…? may have been a trusted companion in your Spanish-language repertoire for some time now, it’s time to say goodbye. You’ll thank us for it later.

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