Advise, Recommend, Suggest: Which Verb To Choose

Brett Johnson
August 14, 2019 ·
5 min read
Grammar

As it often happens, the English language might be a bit tricky, especially for the ESL students. Some English words have multiple meanings and, moreover, sentence patterns associated with them. “Advise vs. Recommend vs. Suggest” is one of such puzzles. These verbs could be followed by the noun, gerund, pronoun or noun, or even use in the subjunctive mood i.e., with a noun clause containing a verb!

You see, the number of possible options is significant! Let’s sort things out and understand when you should use recommend, suggest, and advise.

What these words stand for

First of all, let’s cover the basics. Verbs “recommend,” “suggest,” and “advise” are all used in situations when someone is telling another person what to do. In many cases you can use these verbs interchangeably. However, there are also some differences in their exact meanings and usage patterns.

Let’s break this down:

  • Advise is a more formal verb, it is used in corresponding situations when one person gets direction from some sort of professional (doctor, teacher) or superior person (manager, government official).
  • Recommend is less formal and more personal. You use it when suggesting something based on your own experience.
  • Suggest is the less formal of all three verbs, you use it when talking about ideas, opinion, etc.

Guidelines 

The more you study these words, the more differences you will find. Here are common guidelines you should know to be always correct in this “advise/recommends/suggest” puzzle.

Suggest doing something

You use this form in the case when the person suggesting is always involved in the activity. This form is often used with a gerund.

Example:

She suggested going for lunch.

In this example, the person is also about to go for lunch with others.

Suggest (that) someone (should) do something 

In this case, the person suggesting does not mean he or she will participate in the activity.

He suggested that I should go and apply for this job.

Sometimes, however, the person making the suggestion might also be involved in the activity:

He suggested that we should all go for lunch.

Important: the verb “recommend” follows the same rules as “suggest.”

Recommend something/someone to someone

This is a “recommend/suggest/advise + noun” pattern. If you want to include in your sentence the person who the suggestion is being made to, then you can use the “noun object + to + person” pattern.

She recommended her dentist to me. 

ESL students often put “to + person” after the verb itself. It is done like this in many languages, but this is wrong in English.

Wrong: She recommended to me her dentist.

Suggestion + that + subject + base verb

This is the trickiest part of the topic. The structure when the suggestion verb is followed by a noun clause is called the subjunctive mood.

The exact pattern looks as follows: “verb of suggestion + that + subject + base verb.”

Examples:

My coworker recommended that she take a taxi home from the office.

The sales rep suggested that he put this offer on hold.

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