One of my students asked me about these three questions, which are three different ways to ask someone about another person’s phone number. My student wanted to know, what’s the difference between these three questions:
- “What’s his number?”
- “Do you know his number?”
- “Do you happen to know his number?” / “Would you happen to know his number?”
Today, I’ll explain it to you.
This question, “What’s his number?” is the most direct. You can use this question when talking with friends, or when talking with someone who you are certain that this person knows the number.
For example, if you were talking to me, and you wanted to know my husband’s phone number, then you would ask what’s his number, because of course I know my husband’s phone number. You can ask this direct question when talking with friends, or when you are sure that the other person knows the answer.
“Do you know his number?” is a little more indirect. We would ask this if we are not so certain that the other person actually knows the phone number. For example, let’s say I’m telling you that I have a great yoga instructor, and you’re interested in taking yoga classes too. You want to talk to the instructor.
You might ask me, “Do you know his number?” because maybe I know the yoga instructor’s number, but maybe I don’t. You’re not sure. You’re not certain, so you could ask me, “Do you know his number?” I’ll either say, “Yes, I have his number. Here it is.” Or, I’ll say, “No sorry, I can ask him about it.”
“Do you happen to know his number?” Or, “Would you happen to know his number?” These are the same. You can use either do, or would in this question only. Ask this, this is even more indirect. This is when there is only a very small possibility that the other person actually knows the number.
Let’s imagine that I met some businessman at a conference. I only met him once. He’s not my best friend, he’s not my coworker. Later, I’m telling you about this businessman and you want to contact him. You might ask, “Do you happen to know his number?” Or, “Would you happen to know his number?” There’s only really a very small chance that I actually do have the number.
It’s an interesting thing. We use the word happen in English. We can use it to talk about chance, or coincidence. In this case, it’s saying, do you, by chance, know his number?
Let me give you some other examples of using happen to talk about coincidences. I think this is an interesting aspect of English. Let’s say that I’m talking to my friend, and my friend is in some sort of legal trouble. My friend says, “I really need a lawyer.”
I could say, “Oh, my sister happens to be a lawyer.” My sister happens to be a lawyer. This means it’s by coincidence, or by chance my sister is a lawyer, and a lawyer is what my friend needs. It was a happy coincidence that I actually know a lawyer, and it’s my sister.
That would be an example of using happen for a good coincidence. You need a lawyer, my sister happens to be a lawyer. You can also use happens for bad coincidences. Here’s an example of that.
Let’s imagine that last night there was a big thunderstorm, and there were some very strong winds. The wind knocked down a tree. Unfortunately, my car happened to be parked next to the tree. The tree fell on my car. That’s an example of an unlucky coincidence, or a negative coincidence. The thunderstorm knocked down a tree and my car happened to be parked next to the tree. It was chance, or coincidence that my car was parked next to the tree. Got it?
Another really good example is, some of you might have seen a video I posted last week with another English teacher, Gabby, from Go Natural English. Gabby and I, we know each other because we met in various cities around the world. She likes to travel, and I like to travel, so we’re always living in different places.
Right now, we happen to be living near each other. That’s another coincidence, because we didn’t plan it that way, we happen to be living next to each other. You can use the word happen in English to talk about chance, or coincidence.
I hope you’ve learned something from this lesson. I happen to have more lessons for you. If you click the link above this video, you can take some free samples from all of my courses. If you want to know exactly what my courses, and my e-books are like, then you can take a free sample lesson and see exactly what the format is, if the level of difficulty is appropriate for your English level, and of course, see if you enjoy the lesson.
Go ahead and click on the link to try some free samples. Thank you so much for this question about questions. If you have more questions for me, please post them in the comments, and maybe I will make a future video about them. Bye for now.