How to Give Suggestions and Strong Recommendations Using Polite Language

In this lesson, you’ll how to use verbs of suggestion and adjectives of importance with the subjunctive in that-clauses.

These verbs and expressions are used to give strong or urgent recommendations, often in the workplace or at school or university.

These recommendations often come from a person of authority, such as a manager, executive, professor, teacher, police officer, elected representative, or doctor. (Or even a parent talking to a child!)

You should use these verbs of suggestions and adjective phrases to show the importance of your recommendations without giving a direct command.

(A direct command would look like this: “Write the finance report immediately.”)

Giving a direct command can sound too forceful or bossy, which means your listener might not receive your recommendation well.

Instead, you need to create a little more distance in the way you speak.


How to Express Power, Urgency, and Importance Politely

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 your colleagues, students around.

These verbs or verb phrases help you sound more professional and polite when giving suggestions or recommendations, and that’s why it’s so important that you learn how to use them correctly.

(Did you see what I did there? I used the subjunctive!)


How to Use the Subjunctive in That-Clauses

For speakers of Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and other Romance languages, the subjunctive is a familiar grammar form.

In English, the subjunctive mood is less common but is always used with these verbs and adjective phrases.

It is an advanced grammar concept that many fluent English speakers still need to practice using correctly.

The subjunctive in English works as follows:

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

In this grammar structure, “that” is optional and can be used for emphasis.

The base form of the verb always follows these verbs and adjective phrases. The base form of the verb does not have “to” or “-ing.” It does not use -s and it does not change based on the verb tense used with the suggestion. You always use the base form with the subjunctive!

Here are some examples:

  • I ask that you listen carefully to what I am about to say.
  • She recommended that he call their client immediately.
  • We insist you arrive on time to work.
  • It is crucial that we be informed as soon as you finish.
  • I suggest you practice your English each day!

In each of these examples, the base form of the verb is marked in bold.

As you can see from the second example, the verb “recommend” is in the past tense – but the subjunctive in the that-clause does not change.

It is always the base form!


Verbs of Suggestion and Recommendation

Here are the most common verbs of suggestion. There are others, but they are not commonly used in American English – and my goal is to help you sound more natural!

  • 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)

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)

Your Turn

It is important that you study the subjunctive carefully. I also recommend that you learn how to use this grammar structure today – it’s another easy way to sound more natural in English!

Leave a comment below using one of the verbs of suggestion and one of the adjectives of importance. I’ll let you know if you’ve got it right!

For more suggestions, check out my series of articles and video lessons on how to sound more polite.

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.

4 thoughts on “How to Give 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

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