I think you should apologise: giving advice and making suggestions

JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty

by Liz Walter

We all have times when we want to give advice to someone or to make a suggestion about something they could do to solve a problem. However, it’s not always easy to do that without giving offence, so this post looks at a range of language you could use in this situation.

The most obvious words to use for giving advice are the modal verbs should and ought to:

You ought to eat more vegetables.

You shouldn’t be so rude to your parents.

Note that although we commonly use the negative form shouldn’t, it’s very rare and formal to use the negative form of ought to.

We also use need to in the same way:

You need to get some sleep.

Words like should, ought to and need to are very definite. They show that you are very sure of your advice. The problem with that is that they can be annoying to the person you are talking to because they can make you sound rather bossy. You could soften your advice by adding a word like perhaps or maybe at the beginning:

Maybe you should call her.

You could also use the modal verb could, which makes the sentence sound more like a suggestion rather than a piece of strict advice. Again, you could add a word like perhaps to make it even less bossy:

Perhaps you could get a part-time job.

Another common way of giving advice is to start a sentence with If I were you, I’d:

If I were you, I’d insist on a pay rise.

Just in case you’re wondering, the reason we say ‘I were’ here, rather than the usual ‘I was’ is because it’s a subjunctive – but you don’t need to worry about that, just learn the phrase!

Another phrase worth learning for advice is you’d better (not):

You’d better take a torch.

However, it’s important to note that – depending on context and the tone of voice – this phrase can sound quite threatening:

You’d better not try to trick me!

Of course, there are lots of other possible ways of giving advice. Here is a selection:

It might be an idea / a good idea to reserve a seat.

Have you thought about/tried/considered changing to a different course?

Why don’t you  / Why not leave it until another day?

I’d suggest / recommend cooking it in the oven.

I’d advise you / My advice is to leave the city immediately. (formal)

Do feel free to contribute any other useful phrases for advice in the comments below!

For more general  information about modal verbs, see my post from last November.


26 thoughts on “I think you should apologise: giving advice and making suggestions

    1. Dizmo

      Maybe you could focus on your grammar as well as spelling – that would be my advice; it’s just a suggestion.

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist :), your English is fine.

  1. Renu gupta

    Firstly, I’d like to thank you for such nice and informative blogs. They’re really very enjoyable and knowledgable.
    Secondly, I’d like to share with you that I’m new to this portal. But now I’m reading your blogs quite regularly.
    And finally, I’d like to request you to please post your blogs more often. I’d like to tell you that after reading the last blog posted by you, I start waiting for the next one to come . I’ve improved my English a lot with your blogs that’s what I think.

    1. Liz Walter

      That’s very kind! I hope you are also reading the blogs by my colleague Kate Woodford, which I’m sure you would also find useful, and then you would have one every week!

  2. Mike

    Thank you Liz for this blogs, I’m new here and i find it very interesting and helpul for english. Kindly please post more blogs.Thank you and god speed.

  3. Leung Ka Yan

    Hi Liz, can the clause “Íf I were you” be omitted and the listener still understands it is an advice for him or her? Thanks a lot!

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