May I Know Who Is This - Learn This English Phrase

english phrases questions Jul 18, 2021
may i know who is this

 “May I know who is this?” is the incorrect form of “may I know who this is?” In every language, we ask this question when we want to ask the question “who is this?” in a polite way.  “Who is this?” can come across as rude, so  native English speakers soften it by forming it into an indirect question.  Indirect questions are more polite than direct questions in English.

In the sentence:

“This is Sarah,” ‘ is’ is the main verb of the sentence.


When the main verb of a sentence is ‘ to be’ (am/are/is/was/were), we swap the subject of the sentence and the verb to form the question.


In the direct question form:

“Who is this?”


However, polite opening phrases such as “may I know…” form indirect questions.


Indirect question  structures do not change when the question is formed.


In the indirect question form:

“May I know who this is?”


Meaning of The Question May I Know Who Is This 

“May I know who this is?” is a way of asking someone who they are when you cannot see them.  We usually ask this question when someone phones us or if we answer the phone for someone else and we want to take a message for them.


How Do You Answer May I Know Who Is This?

To answer this question, we can simply say:


“Of course.  This is Carl.”

We usually use “this is…” when we  introduce ourselves In English over the phone.  It’s a way to identify ourselves when someone cannot see us.


We can also respond to “may I know who this is?” with:

“Sure.  I’m Carl.”

“Yes.  It’s Carl.”


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How Do You Say May I Know Who Is This?

It is not correct to say “may I know who is this?” because it combines the direct and indirect question forms.  It is correct to say “may I know who this is?”  It is better to choose either a direct or an indirect question.


We can ask “may I know...who is this?” However, it is a broken-up question and a mix between the direct and indirect question which makes it an odd question to ask.  When we’re speaking informally, it isn’t uncommon to break halfway through a sentence to say something in a different way.

But this is not grammatically correct.  We must never use this form in writing and, when speaking, we should either ask:


“Sorry, who is this?” or “may I know who this is?” without mixing up the forms of these two sentences.


Can I Know Who Is This

Similarly to ‘may, I know…’ ‘can I know…’ is another indirect question form.  Therefore, the correct form is “can I know who this is?”


We can ask “can I know who this is?” However, it is not a polite way of asking someone who they are.  “Can I know who this is?” means “is it possible for me to know who this is?”


“May I know who this is?” is a much politer and formal way to ask “who is this?” so it’s best to say “may I know who this is?” instead of “can I know who this is?”