Have you ever wanted to give a clear, strong suggestion to a friend, relative, or coworker, while still sounding tactful and polite?

At times, we need to encourage or even urge other people to take action, but we don’t want to sound bossy, demanding, or like we’re ordering people around.

I recommend that you keep watching to find out how to offer clear suggestions and make strong recommendations in American English.

In this video, you’ll learn how to change super direct commands into polite, but clear, suggestions and recommendations.

By intentionally choosing this language and maintaining calm, measured intonation, you emphasize the importance of your ideas, while ensuring that the other person stays open to hearing what you have to say.

Let’s get started!


Understanding Direct Commands and When to Use Them

When you first learn how to tell someone what to do, you find out how to give direct commands, such as:

  • Write this report by Friday.
  • Wait your turn.
  • Finish the project immediately.
  • Respond to my email as soon as possible.
  • Head to the emergency exit.

Of course, there are several situations where it sounds natural to give these direct commands.

For example, when there’s an urgent situation, we may need to say “Head to the emergency exit immediately.”

By using this direct command, the other person is very clear that this is an important action to take. Y

ou may also hear people give direct commands in certain relationships, such as when a parent is telling a child what to do: Put away your toys.

We may also choose to use this direct language in more casual, relaxed situations, when we feel more comfortable with the other person, and we trust that they understand that we’re not bossing them around.

For example, you may say something like “Pass the salt” at a family dinner.

In other types of situations, direct commands can feel forceful, bossy, or demanding (not ideal!).

For example, when you’re talking to strangers, or you’re interacting with coworkers, or chatting with your friends, using direct commands can feel like you’re telling them what to do.

Rather than getting into a long discussion of power dynamics here, let me just remind you that not everyone responds well to being told what to do.

To help us navigate situations where we want people to listen to our suggestions and take action, we use special grammar structures, and, of course, intonation.


Use Verbs of Suggestion and Adjectives of Importance Instead

Because we’re talking about how to give strong suggestions and recommendations, we’re going to focus on verbs of suggestion and adjectives of importance.

For example, suggest, recommend, ask, insist. These words have urgency built right into them.

By starting a suggestion with one of these phrases, you create a little distance that helps the other person stay open and receptive to what you have to say.

It’s important that you learn how to use them correctly so that you can express power and urgency in a diplomatic way.

(Did you see what I did there? I used an adjective of importance with the subjunctive!)

Let’s look at some examples so you can see how they work:

  • I ask that you listen carefully to what I’m about to say.
  • She recommends that we call our client immediately.
  • We insist that you arrive to work on time.
  • It’s crucial that we be informed as soon as the project is complete.
  • I suggest that you practice stress and intonation.
  • It’s essential that you give him the medicine tonight.

Did you notice anything interesting about the grammar in these examples?

You probably saw that the word “that” follows the verbs of suggestion and the adjectives of importance.

Anything else?

The verb in the second part of the sentence is actually the base form.

The base form signals the subjunctive mood, which we use for suggestions and desires.

If you speak a Romance language, then you’re used to using this type of verb, but in English, it’s less common.

The base form is exactly what it sounds like: the verb without anything else.

No “to,” no “-ing,” no conjugated form.

The base form doesn’t change based on the verb tense in the first part of the sentence, either.

Here’s what the grammar structure looks like:

suggestion verb (or adjective of importance) + that + noun + base form of the verb

(You will hear some people drop “that” between the two clauses, but I tend to use it for emphasis.)

Let’s take a closer look at these examples.


Practice Verbs of Suggestion and Adjectives of Importance

When you say these sentences, remember to keep your intonation calm, even, and measured.

You’re clearly and confidently offering a strong suggestion or recommendation.

I ask that you listen carefully to what I’m about to say.

As you notice, we’re using the base form of the verb “listen”: I ask that you listen carefully to what I’m about to say.

Can you hear which words I’m emphasizing most with my voice?

In this case, I’m emphasizing the verb “ask,” and I’m also drawing attention to the adverb “carefully.”

By emphasizing the word “ask,” I’m focusing attention on the request.

By stressing “carefully,” I’m reminding the person what I want them to do.

I ask that you listen carefully to what I’m about to say.

Now you try it: I ask that you listen carefully to what I’m about to say.


Let’s look at another one.

She recommends that we call our client immediately.

Did you hear how we’re using the base form of the verb “call”?

She recommends that we call our client immediately.

As you can hear, I’m stressing the verb in the request.

And I’m also stressing the action that she wants us to take: She recommends that we call our client immediately.

Now you try it: She recommends that we call our client immediately.


Here’s another one.

We insist that you arrive to work on time.

Once again, you can hear that we’re using the base form of the verb “arrive.”

We insist that you arrive to work on time.

If you listen carefully, you can hear that I’m stressing the verb of suggestion, as well as the action in the second part of the sentence: We insist that you arrive to work on time.

Try it with me: We insist that you arrive to work on time.


Now let’s look at an example that has an adjective of importance.

It’s crucial that we be informed as soon as the project is complete.

Do you notice anything special that’s happening in the second part of the sentence?

That’s right – we’re using the passive voice, but we’re still using the base form of the verb “be”: It’s crucial that we be informed as soon as the project is complete.

You can hear that I’m emphasizing the adjective of importance, “crucial,” as well as the action that I want the other person to take, “informed.”

It’s crucial that we be informed as soon as the project is complete.

Let’s try it: It’s crucial that we be informed as soon as the project is complete.


Here’s another example.

I suggest that you practice stress and intonation.

Once again, you notice I’m using the base form of the verb “practice”: I suggest that you practice stress and intonation.

I’m also emphasizing the verb of suggestion, as well as the action I want you to take: I suggest that you practice stress and intonation.

Try it with me: I suggest that you practice stress and intonation.


One more example.

It’s essential that you give him the medicine tonight.

As you notice, we’re using an adjective of importance at the beginning of the sentence, the word “essential.”

We’re also using the base form of the verb “give”: It’s essential that you give him the medicine tonight.

You can hear that I’m stressing the adjective “essential” as well as the verb “give” in order to focus attention on this strong recommendation.

It’s essential that you give him the medicine tonight.

Now you try it: It’s essential that you give him the medicine tonight.


Express Urgency and Importance Tactfully and Politely

As you can hear in these examples, combining a verb of suggestion or adjective of importance with the action you want the other person to take makes the suggestion even stronger.

You’re underlining the importance of your suggestion or recommendation, rather than giving the person a command.

You’re encouraging them to take action with your words and your intonation.

Verbs of Suggestion and Recommendation

Here are the most common verbs of suggestion and recommendation in American English:

  • to advise (that)
  • to ask (that)
  • to demand (that)
  • to forbid (that)
  • to insist (that)
  • to propose (that)
  • to recommend (that)
  • to request (that)
  • to require (that)
  • to suggest (that)

(There are others, but they are not commonly used in American English.)


Adjectives of Importance

Here are the adjectives of importance:

  • it is best (that)
  • it is critical (that)
  • it is crucial (that)
  • it is desirable (that)
  • it is essential (that)
  • it is imperative (that)
  • it is important (that)
  • it is necessary (that)
  • it is vital (that)

As you can see, the words themselves communicate the importance and urgency of the suggestions or recommendations.

Remember, this type of language is used for strong suggestions and important recommendations.

This language helps you assert authority while still sounding tactful.

There are many other ways to offer softer suggestions in friendly, lighter situations, including the ones I discuss in this video on sounding more polite.

As always, you want to choose the right language to suit the situation.

Now you know how to be more intentional with your word choice and your intonation.

Ready to communicate more effectively in conversations? Learn communication skills that enable you to connect with other people and engage in natural conversations and professional discussions. Get started here.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN JUNE 2016, AND WAS UPDATED IN November 2020.



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