October 14, 2007

#01-024: Making Suggestions

shoppers in a check-out line
Don't say, "You'd better stand in line."

Note: We have to be careful about the difference between a suggestion and a command. Suggestions are good between friends, but only bosses, teachers, parents, and other "superiors" should give commands!

Get Ready: What are some words we can use when making suggestions? How about when giving commands?

Tony, an American, is talking with his Chinese friend Harry:

Harry: Tony, I think you had better learn some Chinese.

Tony: I "had better"? Or what? What will happen? What will you do to me?

Harry: Pardon?

Tony: I'm sorry, Harry. I know the textbooks recommend "had better" as one way of giving advice, but to my ears it sounds like a threat.

Harry: A threat?

Tony: Yeah, you know, like, "You had better do this or else." You can say, "You'd better pay your taxes, or you might have to pay penalties." But if you say to someone at a supermarket, "You'd better stand in line," it's just too strong.

Harry: Then, how can we give this kind of advice?

Tony: It's better to be indirect. One way is to use questions, such as "Do you think you should learn some Chinese?" or "Why don't you learn some Chinese?"

Harry: I see. What else can I do?

Tony: You can make general statements, rather than using command forms. Try "It's good to learn some Chinese" or "Knowing the local language can be very useful."

Harry: Got it. Anything else?

Tony: Both of these methods are simply ways to avoid pointing a finger at someone and saying "you must!" So any indirect ways of speaking can work. Unless you are an authority figure--like a parent speaking to a child, a boss to an employee, or a teacher to a student--it's best to avoid issuing commands... or making threats!

Most textbooks give several ways to make suggestions. In addition to "had better," we often see "should," "ought to," and even "must." But students may not realize that these can be dangerous.

Joe is late for work. His boss might say, "You shouldn't be late." No problem. But if his co-worker says the same thing, the co-worker may sound too "bossy."

"Should" is safer, however, in general statements: "Workers shouldn't be late." But we have to be careful not to say such things when the listener is already sensitive because he was just scolded by the boss!

As for "must," Americans seldom use it, except when making guesses ("You must be Mike," or "I must have made a mistake.") It would be very unusual for one friend to say to another: "You must always take vitamins." We might say, in this case, "You ought to take vitamins," but even that is too directive ("bossy") for some people's taste.

So remember: You had better be careful about making suggestions!


Read more: https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/making-and-responding-to-suggestions/4266045.html

Practice: You and your friend are planning to buy a car together, and your friend is asking for advice about what kind of car you should get. Which of these answers sounds bossy, and which ones sound friendly? Mark "B" for "Bossy" and "F" for "Friendly."

  1. Do you think we should buy one with good gas mileage?
  2. Why not buy one with good gas mileage?
  3. What about buying one with good gas mileage?
  4. We had better buy one with good gas mileage.
  5. We must buy one with good gas mileage.
  6. Why don't we buy one with good gas mileage?
  7. Let's  buy one with good gas mileage.
  8. We should buy one with good gas mileage.
  9. We ought to buy one with good gas mileage.
  10. Cars with good gas mileage are the best way to help the environment--and save money!

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 14, 2007

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. F; 2. F; 3. F; 4. B; 5. B; 6. F; 7. F; 8. B; 9. B; 10. F