There’s always somebody in a group of friends that is known for giving good advice. You know the type…a person who doesn’t mind listening to others and always knows exactly what to say. Are you that person in your group of friends? If you are, this article is perfect because it teaches you more than 20 ways to give advice in English.
We also review how to use the modal advice verbs as well as explore some expressions in English that you can use when friends come to you with issues they need to work on. Maybe you are not so good at helping people with their problems, but I’m sure you need to ask for help sometimes. If so, this article will also help you by teaching useful phrases that you can use whenever you need to ask for advice. At the end of the post, we have some exercises for you to put everything into practice!
Using modal verbs to give advice in English
You have probably heard about modal verbs. These verbs come before the main verb to help express ability, advice, necessity, possibility, etc. There are nine common modal verbs in English: can, could, must, may, might, ought to, would, shall, and will.
Can & could
We use can to talk about ability (I can speak English) or to ask for permission (Can you drive me to school today?). Could is the past form of can. It is also used to ask for permission. However, one would use could when they need to be a little bit more formal (Could I please use your toilet, Mrs. Smith?). Could is also used to talk about an ability in the past (When I was 5 years old, I could play the piano). Both ‘can’ and ‘could’ are also used in the negative form — can’t or cannot and couldn’t or could not.
May & might
May is used to ask for permission in an extremely polite way (May I have another glass of wine, please?) or to express probability (Joe may have an extra ticket to give you). Might is another option of modal verbs we can use to express probability. Also, it is used to make suggestions (Might I suggest buying this coat instead of that one?).
We will use must to talk about obligation or necessity. Its negative form, must not, is used to express prohibition.
- You must have a driver’s license if you want to buy a car.
- In the United States, you mustn’t drink if you are under 21 years of age.
Shall and will are very similar. We use them to express decisions about the future, as well as suggestions. Shall is commonly used in British English.
Would is used in conditional sentences (I would eat that if I wasn’t on a diet). We can also use would to talk about desire and to invite somebody.
- I would love to go to Japan one day!
- Would you join me for coffee tomorrow morning?
We will explore the meanings and usages of ‘should’ and ‘ought to’ below. They are the ones we use the most to give or ask for advice.
The 3 basic rules for using modal verbs
When using modal verbs we have to be aware of some rules. The first one is that modal verbs are always followed by a verb in the base form. A base form has no ending (such as -s, -ed, -ing) added to it.
Example: My mom just called me. I must go home now.
Another rule we need to pay attention to is that modal verbs are the same for all pronouns. That means we use the same verb for I, You (singular), He, She, It, We, You (plural), and They. Take a look at some examples:
- I can drive.
- She can drive.
- They can drive.
Whenever asking questions in English with modal verbs, remember that most of them don’t need auxiliary verbs (the exception being have to). They have negative and question forms. Check out some examples below:
- He may go to the party.
- May he go to the party?
Modal verbs and more ways to give advice
We will now focus on the English modal verbs for advice as well as explore some other structures we can use to give advice. The modal verbs of advice are should, ought to, and would. Had better is also widely used, but we call it a modal-like expression instead of a modal verb. You can read more about this below. Besides these, we will talk about raising questions to give advice.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Do you recognize this phrase? I’m sure you’ve heard it before. It’s the name of a popular song by the English punk rock band The Clash. In 2004, the track was listed in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Should is the most common modal verb of advice in English. We can use it in positive and negative sentences as well as in questions. Take a look at the table below to see how to use this verb.
|Positive sentences||Negative sentences||Questions|
|He should stop smoking.||He shouldn’t spend so much money on cigarettes.||Should I stop smoking?|
|They should call their grandmother more often.||They shouldn’t call her at night. She goes to bed early.||Should we call her today?|
You oughta know..
There is another famous song that has a modal verb of advice in its title. The song, by Canadian singer Alanis Morissette, was very popular in 1995. The most famous part of the chorus is when she says You oughta know. Oughta is the spoken contraction of ought to. We use ought to in positive sentences only. It is more formal and less common than should. Here are some examples:
- You ought to call your grandmother tonight.
- She ought to do the dishes before going to bed.
Would: If I were you…
If somebody tells you more details about a problem they are facing in their life, they may say “What would you do?” You can reply by saying “Well, if I were you I would definitely go to her office and request a meeting”.
Read this dialogue between two friends:
— He asked me out on a date, but I think we have nothing in common. Would you go anyways?
— Well, if I were you I would go. You can always come up with an excuse to leave early!
Had better: focus on the consequences
As we mentioned before, had better is not a modal verb. We call it a ‘modal-like expression’. We use had better to tell someone what to do and warn them about possible consequences that can happen if they don’t follow the advice given. We can’t make questions using had better. Examples:
- You had better study or you will fail the test.
- You’d better wake up earlier tomorrow or you will miss your flight.
Advice in the form of questions: ‘Why don’t you?’ and ‘How about?’
Another way to give someone advice is by asking them questions. If somebody comes to you with a problem, you can help them by saying something like ‘Why don’t you…?” or “How about…?”. Take a look at some examples:
— I can’t cook. I try to follow recipes but the result is never good.
— Well, how about taking some cooking classes?
— Hum, that’s actually a good idea!
— I need to buy a birthday gift for Julia, but I have no idea of what to give her!
— Why don’t you talk to her sister? I’m sure she will give you some good ideas.
— Perfect. Thank you!
Advice versus Advise: don’t confuse these English homonyms
I advise you to take my advice.
Did you know the word advice is an uncountable noun? That means it has no plural form. Thus, we don’t say
advices and we use much instead of many to talk about the amount of advice.
- Right → My mom never gave me much advice.
- Wrong → My mom never gave me
Advise, on the other hand, is the verb we use to talk about giving suggestions or recommendations to people. The noun ‘advisor’ refers to someone who gives others advice or guidance. Examples: financial advisor, legal advisor, school advisor.
Let’s take a look at some sentences with the verb ‘to advise’:
- The lawyer advised his client not to talk to anybody else.
- The principal advised Mary’s parents to hire a private tutor for her.
English expressions to give advice
When giving advice it is common to use expressions to help us communicate our opinions. These English expressions are frequently used when giving advice. You could practice these by thinking about situations when they were true for you. For example, I waited to see if I passed the test before I celebrated. I didn’t want to count my chickens before they hatched.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
This means to avoid doing something that is too difficult for you.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
This means you should not make plans that depend on something good happening before you know that it has actually happened.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
This is said when you recognize that you should not risk losing something you already have by trying to get something you think might be better.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
This emphasizes that you cannot expect to do important things in a short period of time.
A blessing in disguise
This means something seems bad or unlucky at first, but it results in something good happening later.
To cut to the chase
This means to talk about or deal with the important parts of a subject and not waste time with things that are not important.
Source: Cambridge Dictionary
Practice giving advice in English
Now, let’s try and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. By the way, this is a common expression we use to say it is important to imagine ourselves in the situation of another person in order to understand what they are going through. You will be presented with five situations. You must come up with some advice for them. Shall we get started with these exercises to practice giving advice in English?
1 – I hate vegetables, but I know it’s important to eat them. How can I start eating veggies?
2 – I can’t sleep well, so I have no energy in the morning. What should I do?
3 – I spend 9 hours a day on my smartphone. What can I do to cut my screen time?
4 – I’m scared of flying, but I have an international work trip planned for next month. What can I do?
5 – I got a bad grade on my Math exam and I think I will fail. Should I tell my mom?
You are now ready to help friends in need. Remember the list of modal verbs of advice, the rules to using them, and the expressions we often use when advising people. Now you know many ways to give advice in English, right? Happy studying!