grammatical expression: if you don’t mind my asking

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Many of my students ask questions in English which are very direct and about things that are very personal to some people. These questions are often about things such as money, age or weight. They can also be about personal relationships. Some people are comfortable talking about these things, and some people are not. If you want or need to ask a person about these things, it can seem very rude. One way to soften the question is to add “if you don’t mind my asking” at the beginning. For example:

If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?

If you don’t mind my asking, how much rent do you pay for your apartment?

If you don’t mind my asking, how much money do you earn?

If you don’t mind my asking, how much do you weigh?

If you don’t mind my asking, are you satisfied with your marriage?

As you can probably imagine, many people would be shocked by such questions, but they seem less direct if you add “if you don’t mind my asking” at the beginning. Now, the person who is being asked can respond in a positive way. For example:

No, I don’t mind. I’m 47 years old.

I don’t mind telling you. I pay $950 a month for my place.

The person who is being asked can also respond in a more negative way:

Well actually, I’d rather not talk about that.

That’s none of your business!

In these examples, the first one is very polite, but the second one shows the person is angry and shocked about the question.

Of course, it’s best to avoid asking such personal questions but, if you have to, this expression can help you make it sound much softer.

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