Given the following two alternatives:

Können wir gleich zahlen?

Können wir zahlen?

Does the version with gleich add politeness or does it take it away?

On one hand I wondered if it would be perceived as trying to hurry the process. On the other, I'm not sure whether it suggests paying is not urgent (as perhaps using jetzt might imply) and therefore soften the request.

3 Answers 3


Gleich as well as sofort has a double meaning, it is auto-antonymous:

  1. Das muss gleich in den Kühlschrank. = sofort, unverzüglich, immediately
  2. Mach sofort den Computer aus. - Ja, gleich. = "warte kurz", in zwei oder drei Minuten, soon.

So you can understand the question Können wir gleich zahlen? as

1.a) Können wir sofort nach der Bestellung zahlen und nicht erst nach dem Essen?

2.a) [Nach dem Essen:] Können Sie uns bei nächster Gelegenheit die Rechnung bringen?

I suppose you are talking of the meaning given in 2.a)

For me, the difference in the meanings with or without 'gleich' is hardly noticeable because in a restaurant a waiter will in both cases understand the question as "at the next opportunity." If you want to ask more urgently you might say

Können wir jetzt sofort zahlen?

  • I don't see, how this covers Musst du gleich mit der Tür ins Haus fallen?, which seems an entirely different meaning.
    – guidot
    Nov 5, 2019 at 14:53
  • The meaning may change depending on where the stress is: "Können wir bitte gleich zahlen? = "Can we please pay soon?" versus "Können wir bitte gleich zahlen?" = "Can we please pay right away?", which you might say just when you obtain your meal because you are in a hurry and don't want to wait after finishing it. Nov 6, 2019 at 0:57

Your intuition of a conflict with politeness is basically correct. By hurrying the timeframe you are more likely to cause inconvenience to the person you are interacting with up to the point that they would have to reschedule their tasks. This kind of interference is generally considered impolite, even if you are interacting with service personnel.

However, the effect is subtle and can easily be overcompensated with inserting bitte:

Können wir bitte gleich zahlen ?

This is perfectly acceptable in the example you have given - after all, you are addressing service personnel.

In other social settings it might more likely be considered rude.

However, you can think of situations in which gleich actually adds to politeness. Paying right away when being served an order in a busy place might actually be welcomed by the waiter.


Neither does it add nor does it take away politeness.

There is absolutely nothing wrong about expressing your wishes to service personell as long as you ask friendly.

It's their job to make you happy. Not the other way around.

  • Inhaltlich stimme ich zwar zu, aber es ist keine Antwort auf die Frage. Nov 5, 2019 at 16:50
  • 2
    @userunknown Lies doch noch mal die Frage! Die Antwort lautet weder noch.
    – Olafant
    Nov 5, 2019 at 16:54
  • I would still add a "bitte" if I want to be SUPER polite, as in "dürfte ich bitte gleich zahlen?". Wobei, overplaying it would cause the opposite effect, naturally.
    – Dan
    Nov 5, 2019 at 22:37
  • @Olafant: Die letzte Zeile klingt für mich sehr danach, dass das Personal höflich sein soll, nicht der Kunde, und damit wie ein Dementi des zuvor geschriebenen. Jan 26, 2020 at 11:21

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