How to Give Clear Suggestions and Strong Recommendations Using Polite Language

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.

11 thoughts on “How to Give Clear Suggestions and Strong Recommendations Using Polite Language”

  1. Thank you very much for this information. Now that you mentioned that this structure is familiar to people who speak the Romance languages, I got it even better. Even when Spanish is my mother tongue and I do use this structure in my language I was doing it wrong in English. I’ll try using your other ‘facilities.’ Please tell me if this is correct: I asked she pay careful atenttion to the speech. Could you give further information on the use of negative. What is better: 1) I recommend she not go. 2) I recommend she not to go. 3) I recommend she don’t go. I’ll be looking forward for your answer. Thanks.

    Reply
    • I’m happy to hear this helped you! In your first example, I would probably include “that” for clarity. This sounds a little more natural: “I asked that she pay careful attention to the speech.” Your question about negatives is a good one! Your first example is right: “I recommend that she not go.” However, I would be more likely to use the structure “I recommend not going” with the verb “to go” or switch the verb: “I recommend that she stay.” Personally, I wouldn’t use the negative with this structure; it just doesn’t flow naturally.

      Reply
  2. I have a question for you.

    I have a history of being bullied, people ordering me around. Thus, my gut response when people say to me “YOU SHOULD do such and such” is to feel this sounds more like a demand to me rather than a suggestion. It seems obviously manipulative to me. It also seems like an attempt to evade the accusation of this by couching the demand in polite language. It seems like the person wishes to tell me what to do “for my own good” but still hide this true intent. It would be okay if the “you should” were prefaced with something like “if I were you I would suggest that you should”. I think your comments here are very astute:

    Using these verbs of suggestion and recommendation enables you to express power, importance, and urgency in a diplomatic, tactful way. Similarly, these adjective phrases clearly communicate that what you are about to suggest is of utmost importance without sounding like you are ordering someone around.

    My question to you…am I just being paranoid or can you empathize with my feelings here?

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing this thoughtful observation of your reactions to these language structures. It completely makes sense that if you have a history of being ordered around that you would react strongly to this kind of language. I have to admit, I also do not like being told “you should” or “you have to,” because my immediate, unintentional reaction is to listen carefully and then adjust my behavior accordingly. Of course, it is important to interrupt this pattern and ask yourself, “Do I agree with this person? Is this a suggestion I even want to listen to?” A lot of times, I find I’m reacting because of social conditioning, so I find it really helpful to get curious before changing my perspective or my behavior just because someone offered a suggestion. I would also say that “should” is not necessarily polite language. A better modal verb is “could,” because it presents an idea as an option. I also agree that “if I were you” helps soften what you’re about to say. The thing is, sometimes people *are* demanding you do something, or they’re really trying to influence your behavior for their own reasons, and other times they just said the words that came out quickest. Even these more careful, considered structures can be used to manipulate someone. Context matters, and that’s why I find it so helpful to question what the other person is saying as well as my reactions.

      Reply
  3. I have been wondering why the subjunctive mood is used after suggestion or importance expressions. Thank you for your crystal-clear explanation, Kim! I have 2 questions. (1) I have read in grammar books that in British English, “shoud” is often used after suggestion verbs instead of the subjunctive mood . In this case, is “should” just a modal expressing suggestions (as in “you shoud get more sleep”) OR a modal for distancing to be polite or tactful (as in “If you should go, you ~ ” )? (2) Is it also possible that other modals are used after suggestion verbs or importance expressions? For example, I suggest that they can/ will/ may ~ . Thank you for your kind answer.

    Reply
    • I’m happy to hear this explanation was crystal clear. That’s an interesting question about “should.” I believe I’ve read the same in grammar books, but since I’m American I haven’t heard anyone use this structure myself. I would say that it’s being used as a modal for expressing suggestions, but it also has the effect of creating more distance from the request. I don’t think you can technically use other modals after suggestion verbs; the base form is grammatically correct. However, since we don’t always speak with perfectly formed, grammatically correct sentences 100% of the time, it’s possible you’ll hear someone use a modal. As I often say, when you notice unusual uses of language, take note of them! Pay attention to the context, the person’s speaking style, and anything that will help you better understand why they spoke the way they did. Curiosity helps you truly understand the language! For more on using modals to sound more polite and tactful, check out this video: https://englishwithkim.com/sound-more-polite-tactful/

      Reply
      • Thank you for your helpful answer. May I add one more thing, which is not about English Grammar at all? Reading your response to Vera Meyer’s comment, I have thought you ARE a very understanding, sympathetic, and thoughtful person!

        Reply
  4. Hi Kim
    I have a question ,please
    Choose
    you (can- should) read this new short story .It is recommended.
    Thank you in advance

    Reply
    • As I share in this video, a better way to offer this suggestion is to say, “I recommend that you read this new short story.” However, in a more relaxed, casual situation, you can use the modal verb “should,” as long as you’re making the recommendation with enthusiasm and excitement. Otherwise, it sounds like you’re telling the other person what to do. Context matters.

      Reply

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