AEE 1120: How to Soften Your English Questions with One Key Phrase

Have you heard somebody use the phrase “by any chance”?

Does this feel a bit confusing to you?

Do you want to know how to use this in English?

We have a great question from a listener named Will.

Will wants to know about the phrase “by any chance.” He asks if it is formal or casual as well.

Saying “by any chance” can tend to be more on the formal side, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t use it in more casual situations as well.

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Understanding Its Meaning and Usage

So what does it mean?

It’s a nice phrase to add to a question to make it polite–it’s almost like saying possibly in a way.

The dictionary also says “by any chance” can be used in tentative inquiries or suggestions” – and it is used in yes/no questions.

There is the dictionary definition which helps a little, but then there is also the idea of using it in everyday conversation.

This is one of those phrases that may be hard to understand until you just practice using it in conversation.

Practice Using It In The Right Examples or Settings

How can we use it?

Though you may hear it used in places other than a question, it is typically at the very end.

“Did you pick up the groceries, by any chance?”

You could say:

“By any chance, did you pick up the groceries?”

Or

“Did you, by any chance, pick up the groceries?”


As a suggestion, you could say:

“Would you, by any chance, want to see the 3pm movie instead of the 6pm?”

Basically, this phrase sounds polite and indirect.

It is often used for questions, and it helps to soften the statement.

 If you want to use it not in a question you could say ‘if by any chance you could pick up the groceries later that would be great.”

That’s more of a polite but direct request.

Other Ways To Say This Same Thing

As is common with many phrases, there are other ways to say the same thing.

How else could you say this?

There are a couple of different phrases that convey the same sort of message.

  • Perchance: This is much more formal and therefore not used very often. It works, but it’s not used quite as commonly at all. “Do you, perchance, know my sister? She works here.”
  • Happen To: This is used maybe a bit more than perchance, but it’s not as common as “by any chance”. It’s another way to say it, but may be slightly more formal and therefore not used as often. “Did you happen to pick up the groceries?”

Sometimes just having different ways to say the same thing can be quite helpful.

Takeaway

Some phrases are thrown in to give a certain sound.

Some phrases are hard to explain or understand until you just use them in conversation.

You don’t have to aim for perfection, and so remember that practicing using these phrases helps you to make great connections.

You don’t have to say “by any chance” but it’s good to know how it comes across.

All of this helps you develop your personality in English!

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.