Email Etiquette: Is “Please Kindly” Necessary?

Photo by Webaroo on Unsplash

Chinese version 電郵客套話:有需要用上 “please kindly” 嗎? is available here.

It is commonly thought that “please” should be used with “kindly” to “double” politeness in emails, when requesting recipients to follow up something, such as “please kindly follow up.” This isn’t wrong grammatically, but there is an overlap in meaning and therefore redundant.

Grammatically speaking, “please” and “kindly” are an exclamation and an adverb respectively. However, both of them are the same kind of markers to show politeness in terms of use. “Kindly” affects the state of the verb, indicating the manner in which one is to do something. Meanwhile, “please” works at the propositional level: the sayer requests the hearer to do something, but oftentimes s/he cannot command him/her, so s/he will use some politeness expressions, such as “please”, “I’d appreciate it if…” and so on, with the hope of having something done in his/her own favour. 

Although the two words function at different levels, it would be fine just to keep either one since they mean largely similar.

However, the use of “please kindly” is evident in data in English-speaking countries — it just doesn’t appear in more formal texts. I searched this phrase on COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English, a text database) and found 20 instances:

Screen capture from COCA search “please kindly”

In the corpus with 1 billion words across eight genres, the 20 instances are mostly from blogs or articles on the internet, which are mainly transcriptions of speeches. But I did find one seemingly an email conversation:

Re: Scan Receipt Needed!! Please kindly help us to scan it at local library. Also get back to me with the sender’s name used to send the money and amount sent. Please, we don’t want to miss our flight. Help us out.

#18, COCA search “please kindly”

That is to say, it’s not that we can’t use “please kindly”; it’s just that we use it to show growing impatience or even signs of resentment:

  • … I sent him a message asking him to please kindly refrain from harassing my girlfriend… (#12)
  • … could you please kindly shut up and stop these meaningless tirades… (#13)
  • please kindly shut it about your refusal to “forgive us.” (#14)

So that means “doubling the courtesy” makes the opposite? Or put it simply, being overly polite sounds distant and less friendly. Why not simplify the expression and just say “please” then?

This post also introduces (i) politeness strategies and (ii) COCA. Very soon, I’ll pick this up and continue with making use of corpora for teaching and learning English. Stay tuned!

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