‘You could always email him’ – how to make suggestions sound nicer.

by Kate Woodford

politeThese two speakers are giving the same piece of advice to a friend. Compare the words that they use to make the suggestion:

Speaker A: You should go to a different hairdresser.

Speaker B: Have you thought of going to a different hairdresser?

How does speaker A sound to you? Direct? Bossy? Perhaps a little rude? How about speaker B? Polite? Kind? Careful not to upset someone? If you want to sound more like speaker B when giving advice to your friends, read this post. It will tell you simple ways to make your suggestions sound ‘softer’ and more polite.

The first thing to say is that suggestions that start with ‘you should…’ sound very definite. Of course, there will be times when you need to give people very definite advice, but for situations in which you want to suggest something in a gentler, less forceful way, it is best to avoid this phrase. There are a number of ways of making your suggestion sound less certain (and therefore more polite). For example, try making a suggestion by using one of the following question phrases:

Have you tried speaking to James about the problem?

Have you considered/thought about speaking to James?

How/What about speaking to James?

Not all polite suggestions are in the form of questions. ‘Could’ rather than ‘should’ makes a statement suggestion a little softer:

You could invite Annie’s sister too.

A very useful phrase for softening suggestions is ‘can always’ or ‘could always’ […]’:

You could/can always try the café on Green Street.

‘Always’ is also used in the phrase ‘There’s always […]’:

There’s always the café on Elm Street. You could try that.

Other useful words here are ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’. Introducing ‘you could’ with either of these words makes the phrase sound less certain:

Perhaps/Maybe you could help out with the refreshments.

Another approach to making a ‘softer’ suggestion is to use the phrase ‘You might want to […]’ or ‘It might be an idea to […]’:

You might want to ask Clare for her opinion.

It might be an idea to speak to Clare first.

Finally, a slightly different approach is to first mention your own experience of the thing that you are suggesting. The phrase ‘I find […]’ is useful here:

I find it helps to make notes as I’m listening. Have you tried that?

I’ve always found it useful to make notes as I’m listening. Perhaps you could do that.

The next time you make a suggestion, perhaps you could soften it by using one of these phrases. You could always try!

If you need a bit more help, you might want to check out this link.


31 thoughts on “‘You could always email him’ – how to make suggestions sound nicer.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Sergio! ‘You may/might as well’ is used for making suggestions but only in a situation where there is no better alternative. So, for example, ‘We were hoping to see James but if he’s not here, we might as well go home.’ I hope that helps!

  1. Carolanne Reynolds

    Incorrect grammar in the title!
    No one at Cambridge proofreads this?
    Quite apart fro ‘should’, it ought to read:
    Making suggestions sounds nicer.
    b/c “making suggestions’, an idea and singular, is the subject of the verb (not, as may be the case, the writer thought the plural suggestions was the subject).
    Think of
    Eating chocolates is delightful.
    Making mistakes is not.

      1. Kate Woodford

        Hello. Actually, this sentence is correct. In order to make any sense, the verb ‘sound’ here has to agree with the plural ‘suggestions’ and that is why it is ‘sound’ and not ‘sounds’. Eating chocolates is indeed delightful (not to mention topical) but it is not analogous.

      2. Robert Nagy

        Kate, do you really consider the sentence “Making mistakes is not.“ to be not analogous to “Making suggestions sound nicer.”?

      3. ChrisW

        Hello. Actually Carolanne is correct, and the sentence “Eating chocolates is delightful” has exactly the same construction as “Making suggestions sounds nicer” – apart from the comparative adjective.

        The main verb of the sentence (“sound”) has a subject and is in the present tense. (It cannot be an infinitive as Fulvia suggested below). The question is only whether it should be singular or plural. That depends on the subject.

        The subject here is not the plural noun “suggestions”, but the noun phrase “making suggestions”, which represents a singular activity. The sentence is saying that the activity *is* nicer, not that the suggestions themselves *are* nicer. (That may also be true, but it is not the meaning of this sentence).

        Therefore the conjugation of the verb must be present singular: “sounds”.

        You could consider there being an implied subject: “(The activity of) making suggestions sounds nicer.”

    1. Fulvia

      When the verb “make” has the meaning “cause to be” and is followed by a verb, this verb must be in the infinitive (basic form) without “to” (ex: “You make me feel like a natural woman…”); therefore the verb “sound” in the title hasn’t got the “s” of the third singular person because is actually an infinitive (without “to”)

    2. It could be either:
      1) Making suggestions sound nicer.
      2) Making suggestions sounds nicer.
      3) Making suggestions? Sound nicer.

      1) Suggestions are to be reformed in a way to make them sound nicer.
      2) It sounds nice to make suggestions.
      3) You can sound nicer while making suggestions!

      Good luck! I hope that you understood my explanation!

      1. ChrisW

        If my other post ever turns up on this page, please ignore it. I failed to notice that the parenthesised part of the title was intended as a phrase, not a complete sentence, as Kate already explained above.

    3. I too, see a problem with the grammar; but I read it differently — a detached participle: Prefer no period, nor capital “M”; perhaps even just a comma in lieu of the parentheses.
      Either amendment (this or Carolanne’s) will do.

      1. I think it’s following a standard, and well-established, pattern – the first part is an example of the phrases being discussed, and the following item in parentheses gives a broader description of the topic of the post. Nevertheless, as it seems to have caused some confusion, I’ve changed the format of the title slightly – I hope this makes it clearer.

      How come it is a big deal the form rather than the usage. It’s time to focus on COMMUNICATION! Transmitting a message effectively is much more relevant than being worried about GRAMMAR. This closed minded point of view is what doesn’t let foreign language learners feel comfortable enough to speak their mind, express themselves, show their emotions and interact in a conversation.
      This post “Polite vs Rude” offers pragmatics tools to solve real communication situations.

  2. Tatiana Balandina

    The post seems to be very useful. We often forget about politeness and tend to be rather imperative Thank you!

  3. Pingback: Suggestions | celtapreload

  4. Sophie

    Amazing post, as always. Even when you’re trying to be assertive, there’s no need to be rude, and these phrases most certainly prove that. I’m sure this will come handy someday. Thank you very much!

  5. Nelson

    Dear teacher Kate. I’d like to express my gratitude to you for posting one more interesting, useful article about this such an important topic on how to be polite. My English level is elementary and I’m always learning something from your blog. Thank you very much.

  6. Irina

    Could anyone comment on the following quote: ‘Actually, this sentence is correct [MAKING SUGGESTIONS SOUND NICER]. In order to make any sense, the verb ‘sound’ here has to agree with the plural ‘suggestions’ and that is why it is ‘sound’ and not ‘sounds’. Eating chocolates is indeed delightful (not to mention topical) but it is not analogous.’

    Is it really so? Are there any grammar books explaining this phenomenon?

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Irina. Thanks for this. It seems the title has been causing some confusion so I will try to clarify. In the phrase ‘Making suggestions sound nicer’ ‘make’ means ‘to cause to be’. It’s the same sense as in ‘It’s the nice weather that makes this such a popular tourist destination. It’s not the sense of ‘perform an action’, as in ‘She made a suggestion/remark, etc.’ Another way of phrasing this title would be ‘How to make suggestions sound nicer’. I hope that helps.

      1. Englishhobby.ru

        Thank you, it was just silly of me to ask, I knew it perfecly well, sorry, I
        just blocked out. 🙂

  7. Eduardo

    Thank you, Kate!. As a non-native speaker, I always have trouble saying things the right way, (without offending anyone), and this helps a lot. I hope I can continue reading similar articles and learning from them. In other words, keep up the good work!

    1. Kate Woodford

      Thanks, Eduardo! Really nice to hear you say this. We’ll certainly be posting more articles in this vein so keep checking the blog. All the best to you!

  8. ban joe man

    Changing the subject has anyone ever had a try at explaining to a none native english speaker that when thay keep on saying “ok” when you are telling them something is too too much

  9. Pingback: Pragmatically speaking – why don’t we study Pragmatics more? | Richmond Share

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