Giving Advice

The most common ways of giving advice in English use ‘should,’ ‘could,’ ‘would,’ ‘ought to,’ or ‘must’:

  • “You really should see a doctor about that cough.”
  • “If you would just get that colonoscopy done, you could stop worrying about colon cancer. You would have a lot better idea what you need to do once you had received the results.”
  • “You ought to apologize to Jean right now for going off to lunch without checking the workload.”
  • “You know, if you want to get into a good college you must study harder than you’ve been studying.”

It’s also possible to give indirect advice using questions like “Have you considered…?” or “What about…?”

There are many more examples of how to use these and other helping verbs at Using Helping Verbs to Give Advice.

This page suggests some other ways of giving advice and emphasizing what’s important. Then there’s a chance to practice using the expressions on both pages by completing a practice conversation between a discharge nurse and a patient. The practice conversation also demonstrates more of the common vocabulary and expressions English-speakers use to encourage someone to make changes.

Giving Advice Without Using Helping Verbs

There are many other ways to make suggestions in English, using ‘need to’, ‘had better’ (meaning you need to do it, or else there will be consequences) ‘have to’ (similar in meaning to ‘must’), ‘recommend, ’suggest’ or imperatives. Imperatives don’t require a subject. (“You” is implied.) Imperatives are mainly used for giving instructions (or orders) to someone under your authority, rather than for advice. However, friends and family members often use imperatives to each other as they are clear and fast:

  • “You’d* better clean your room before Dad gets home!” (or just “Clean your room before Dad gets home!”)
  • “What should I do next?”
  • “Please give out these meds and then check on Mrs. Anderson in room 15.” 
  • Take these pills after breakfast every day for the next two weeks.”
  • “You need to finish the bottle even if you feel better, so the infection doesn’t come back.”
  • “If you want to get better, you have to follow these instructions very carefully.
  • "What do you recommend for Mr. Smith?"  
  • "I’d* usually recommend surgery, but I think we need to wait until he recovers from this hospitalization. So I’d* suggest a consultation with a cardiac surgeon in two months.”

(* ‘You’d better’ is a contraction for ‘you had better.’ ‘I’d’ is a contraction for I would. The ‘d can be a short for either ‘had’ or more often ‘would,’ depending on the context.)

Emphasizing Important Advice  

‘Must’ is a very strong helping verb. Other ways to underline the importance of your advice include starting:      

  • “Be sure to…”
  • “Make sure you check…”
  • “Be careful to watch for…”
  • It’s essential to…”
  • It’s important to…”

“Mr. Rodriguez, this medicine could damage your stomach. It’s essential to take it with food. If you start to feel stomach pain, be sure to call our office right away.”

or “Mr. Rodriguez, this medicine can cause stomach ulcers. You must always eat before you take it.It’s important to let us know right away if you begin to have stomach problems.”

Helping Verb Practice: Giving Advice

Choose the correct helping verbs to complete this conversation. (Several have more than one possible answer, and you will need to use some more than once.) 

can, could, do, have, must, ought to, should, will, would

Discharge Nurse: “Mr. Elkins, it looks like the doctor will release you to go home this afternoon. I like to review the new routines you need to start. Did the doctor talk to you about exercise?”

Mr. E.: “Yes. He told me I start exercising a little more each day as soon as the incision heals. He said I need to work up to 15 minutes of walking every day this month, and then walk more each day. By June he wants me to walk rapidly for half an hour at least five days a week.”

RN: “That’s right. Walking is excellent exercise. Remember that you not lift anything over five pounds until your surgery site is completely healed. Do you have someone who help you around the house until then?”

Mr. E. “My son is taking a couple weeks off work to help me.”

RN: “ you thought about household help after that? Our social worker arrange someone to come out and clean or cook for you for a couple of hours a day.”

Mr. E.: “That be great! The doctor told me I eat a lot more vegetables and less fast food, but I hate to cook. It’s so easy to just get some fried chicken and gravy at the drive-in down the street!”

RN: “Oh, no! Didn’t the doctor explain about what that much fat do to your heart? you want to go through this surgery again?”

Mr. E.: “No, I don’t! I was just saying it’s easy. I promised my son I eat less junk food and try to lose weight. He says I take care of myself so his new daughter get to know her grandpa.”

RN: “That’s right! The doctor strongly recommended that you avoid fried foods as much as possible. You know, that fast food restaurant also has baked chicken and salads. You eat that once in a while, as long as you limit the amount of salad dressing. you have any other questions?”

Mr. E: “Not right now. I see the doctor again before he sends me home?”

RN: “Yes. Dr. Johnson plans to see you early this afternoon. You ask him any other questions then, or call his office if you have any questions once you get home.”

Mr.E: “Thanks very much. I am really looking forward to going home!”

For more practice using helping verbs to give advice (and to ask questions and give information) see Modals Practice. See Question Formation for examples of different kinds of questions used in health care settings.

Home> Grammar Practice> Using Helping Verbs to Give Advice.

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