Get what you want in English – orders, requests and suggestions

Learn three ways to get people to do what you want in English.

In this lesson we contrast orders, requests and suggestions with the help of our special guest: Super Agent Awesome.

At it’s heart, this is a lesson in English pragmatics and in particular, directives. We compare the force that typically goes with structures like ‘Do it’, ‘Could you do it?’ and ‘Why don’t you do it?’

English directives video script

Orders, requests and suggestions. What’s the difference and how and when do we make them in English? Let’s find out.

Aaron, take that away.
I need to work. Could you play somewhere else?
Are you bored, Aaron? Why don’t you go outside to play?

Do you need to get people to do what you want in English? Then this lessons for you. There are lots of different ways but we’re going to look at three common ones today and compare them. First, orders.

Oh, well give me your number. Give me your pen.
I need it.
Just for a moment.
You’ll give it back.
I just want to borrow it. Sorry, what was that?

Oh, well give me your number. Give me your pen.
I need it.
Just for a moment.
You’ll give it back.
I just want to borrow it. Sorry, what was that?

Instructions like these are direct and to the point. We just say what they have to do. But we can be less direct and ask people to do things instead. So here’s a second way.

Could you pass the cheese?
Sure.
Thank you.

Could you pass the cheese?
Sure.
Thank you.

So instead of telling people to do things, we can ask them with requests like this. OK, so what’s the third way of getting people to do what you want? Well, we can be even more indirect and make suggestions.

Ahhh. I am so tired.
Why don’t you go and lie down?
That’s a really good idea.

Ahhh. I am so tired.
Why don’t you go and lie down?
That’s a really good idea.

So orders, requests, suggestions – what’s the difference? In theory we use orders when we can force someone to do something. If we have power, we can command them.

Aaron, take that away.
Aaron, take that away.

Requests are a bit different because if we ask someone to do something, they have a choice.

I need to work. Could you play somewhere else?
I need to work. Could you play somewhere else?

So how are requests different from suggestions? Well, the idea is we use requests when we think something will be good for us. And we use suggestions when it’ll be good for them.

Are you bored Aaron? Why don’t you go outside to play?
Are you bored Aaron? Why don’t you go outside to play?

Researchers have found that English speakers often make requests and suggestions where, in other languages, people might just give orders. It’s like we want to pretend that the other person has a choice even when they don’t. Why do we do that? I don’t know. It’s just a custom.
But it theory it’s like this: order, request, suggestion. Forcing them, good for us, good for them – in theory. In practice it’s a bit more complicated because it depends who’s talking and what the situation is and we have lots of other ways to get people to do what we want. Make sure you subscribe to our channel so we can show you more in our future videos.

Where are you?
I’m right here.
Oh look at this. Special Agent Awesome. And Special Agent Awesome has a special message about why you should watch Simple English Videos.
It teaches people how to speak English in the right way.
Oh that’s great. Thank you for appearing in a video with us. You are a star yourself.
You’re welcome. Simple English Videos is the best way to learn English on Youtube. Subscribe right now. And that’s it. This is the special announcement over, so cut!

We just have one more special announcement. Starting this Sunday, The English Show is live on YouTube. We’ll be there and our good friend Fluency MC will be live in Paris. So come and join us. You don’t want to miss this.

Sometimes people aren’t direct and they don’t say what they want clearly.  Click here and learn how English speakers sometimes say one thing when they mean another. 
We have a free checklist to help you fix common English mistakes. Click here to learn more about Fix It.

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