Curl-Drew requests ROLSI.pdf (180.77 kB)
Download file

Contingency and action: a comparison of two forms of requesting

Download (180.77 kB)
journal contribution
posted on 02.10.2013, 08:29 authored by Traci S. Curl, Paul Drew
In this article, we explore the syntactic forms speakers use when making requests. An initial investigation of ordinary telephone calls between family and friends and out-of-hours calls to the doctor showed a difference in the distribution of modal verbs (e.g., Can you …), and requests prefaced by I wonder if. Modals are most common in ordinary conversation, whereas I wonder if … is most frequent in requests made to the doctor. This distributional difference seemed to be supported by calls from private homes to service organizations in which speakers also formatted requests as I wonder if. Further investigation of these and other corpora suggests that this distributional pattern is related not so much with the sociolinguistic speech setting but rather with speakers' orientations to known or anticipated contingencies associated with their request. The request forms speakers select embody, or display, their understandings of the contingencies associated with the recipient's ability to grant the request.


This is a report of research undertaken as part of the project Affiliation and Disaffiliation in Interaction: Language and Social Cohesion, funded by the British Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC; Grant No. RES–00023–0035). Under the terms of a European Science Foundation initiative, the ESRC—whose support is gratefully acknowledged—funded the British part of a five-nation study coordinated by Anna Lindström (University of Uppsala, Sweden). The title is “Contingency and Action: A Comparison of Two Forms of Requesting.”



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


CURL, T.S. and DREW, P., 2008. Contingency and action: a comparison of two forms of requesting. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 41 (2), pp. 129 - 153.


© Routledge (Taylor & Francis)


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publication date



This article was published in the journal, Research on Language and Social Interaction [© Routledge (Taylor & Francis)] and the definitive version is available at: