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Recommend, Suggest, Advise: Verbs That Have Multiple Sentence Patterns

by | December 10, 2015

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Some verbs in English have quite a variety of sentence patterns associated with them. For verbs of suggestion such as recommend, suggest, and advise, these patterns evolved to reflect the focus of the suggestion. If the speaker is suggesting a place or a thing, these verbs are followed by a noun. For an activity, they can be followed by a gerund. For a focus on who the suggestion pertains to, they're followed by a pronoun or noun (person) either after the verb (advise) or at the end of a sentence with "to" (recommend, suggest). These verbs are also possible in the subjunctive mood—with a noun clause that contains a base verb.

First off, do your students know the meanings of recommend, suggest, and advise? These verbs are all used when one person wants to tell someone else what he or she should do. While these words can be interchangeable, there are slight meaning and usage differences.

  • Advise is the most formal and is used with subjects like doctor, teacher, counselor, government official, etc.
  • Suggest is more informal and is used to express an idea or opinion.
  • Recommend is more personal and is used when the speaker is giving a suggestion based on personal experience.

Now we're ready to examine all the possible sentence patterns for these verbs.

1. Followed by a noun object

Pattern: recommend/suggest/advise + noun
Examples:
  • He recommended the restaurant down the street.
  • The designer suggested the color blue for the living room.
  • My doctor advised exercise after my heart attack.

Note: If we also want to include who the suggestion is being made to, we can follow the noun object with to + person. Students often make the mistake of putting to + person directly after the verb, but while this is possible in other languages, it is incorrect (or at least very awkward!) in English for recommend and suggest. For advise, see the next section.

  • He recommended the restaurant down the street to us. (correct)
  • He recommended to us the restaurant down the street. (incorrect)
  • He suggested the restaurant down the street to his neighbor. (correct)
  • He suggested to his neighbor the restaurant down the street. (incorrect)

2. Followed by a pronoun

Pattern: advise + pronoun
Examples:
  • The manager advised us on the new protocols.
  • His counselor will advise him to start applying to the local colleges.

Note: Unlike recommend and suggestadvise can also be followed by a noun that refers to the person getting the advice. Also, to + pronoun and to + person at the end of the sentence with advise is possible in some cases, but it can sound a bit awkward and is best avoided or reworded.

  • The manager advised us on the protocols. (correct)
  • The manager advised the employees on the protocols. (correct)
  • The doctor advised exercise to her patient. (possible, but not as common)
  • The doctor advised exercise to us. (possible, but not as common)

3. Followed by a gerund

Pattern: recommend/suggest/advise + gerund
Examples:
  • The concierge recommends taking a guided tour of the island.
  • She suggested shopping at farmers markets instead of grocery stores.
  • Health experts don't advise swimming right after eating.

Note: Point out to students that the Noun + Infinitive rule overrides the gerund rule in almost all cases. Though advise is followed by a gerund (e.g., My teacher advised studying), we must use an infinitive if we include a noun/pronoun object in the sentence (e.g., My teacher advised us to study). For more information and examples, see Gerunds and Infinitives: Helpful Teaching Tips.

4. Followed by a noun clause (the subjunctive mood)

Pattern: verb of suggestion + that + subject + base verb
Examples:
  • My friend recommended that he take a taxi home from the party.
  • The sales clerk suggested that she put the dress on hold.
  • She is advising that we finish our project today.

When verbs with the general meaning of "suggestion" (including advise, ask, demand, insist, prefer, propose, recommend, request, suggest, and urge) are used with a noun clause, we must use a base verb. The noun clause usually starts with the word that and contains a subject, base verb, and possibly an object. The noun clause usually occupies the object position of the main sentence: S + V + (that + S + V + O). Make sure you give your students examples where the main verb is in another tense such as the simple past—this way, they can clearly see the verb in the noun clause is a base verb and not another past verb. It is also helpful to include examples where the subject of the noun clause is in the third person singular so that students are really clear it's a base verb (and doesn't take an -s ending). For more information and examples, see Tips for Teaching the Subjunctive.

Note: We can drop "that" from a noun clause, especially when speaking quickly or in informal speaking and writing. There is no change in meaning (i.e., My friend recommended that we take a taxi home and My friend recommended we take a taxi home are identical in meaning).

Related on ESL Library

Looking for practice with recommend, suggest, and advise? Try our Discussion Starters lesson on Food Labels. This advanced-level lesson includes an exercise to practice the various sentence patterns for these verbs.

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Comments (26)

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Shinay Kim(Guest)

What an excellent source this is!
Thank you so much for your explanation.
This was exactly what I was looking for.

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks a lot! I'm glad it helped.

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Kate (Guest)

This was the most helpful among everything that I looked up! Thank you very much!!!!

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thank you for your kind words, Kate.

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Monica Thompson(Guest)

Thanks a lot!! Your explanation has been really clear to me.

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Great! Thanks for commenting, Monica.

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Deni (Guest)

Thank you for this valuable grammar explanation. I still need some help. Can you give me some example sentence that use the verb suggest/advise/recommend in present simple tense?

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Deni,

Here are some more examples in the simple present.

  • Every day, our teacher recommends extra homework.
  • Every day, our teacher recommends doing extra homework.
  • Every day, our teacher recommends that we do extra homework.

  • My parents always suggest money-saving techniques.

  • My parents always suggest saving money.

  • My parents always suggest that I save money.

  • My coworker often advises late nights at work.

  • My coworker often advises me to work late.

  • My coworker often advises working late.

  • My coworker often advises that I work late.

Hope that helps!

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Denny (Guest)

I like the explanation which is based on its base concept, and I get such explanation here.

Thank you very much!

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks, Denny!

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Makan (Guest)

Hello Tanya

Is it right to say:

I recommended him to study his lessons.
?

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Makan,

No, that's not possible. You need the subject pronoun 'he' or 'to' before the object pronoun. The following examples are correct:

  1. I recommended he study his lessons.
  2. I recommended studying to him.

For more information on the subjunctive (used in example #1 above), see this blog post: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2013/05/02/tips-for-teaching-the-subjunctive/

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Mr Muhammad Shaban(Guest)

Thanks a lot for your great explanation.

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're very welcome.

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Tiara (Guest)

Thank you verry much for your explanation. Miss Tanya

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

My pleasure, Tiara!

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jim (Guest)

Hello Taniya,
Would you mind helping me with the following sentences.
1. 'This suggests the idea that the cheese is still hot and the cheeseburger has just been assembled.'
In this sentence is 'that the cheese is still hot and the cheeseburger has just been assembled' a noun clause or adjective clause?
2. This image gives the message to young women that we can eat a lot and still look great.
In this sentence is 'that we can eat a lot and still look great' a noun clause or adjective clause?
3. The ad seems to suggest to young men that they'll meet good-looking women if they eat at Carl Jr.'s.
In this sentence is 'that they'll meet good-looking women if they eat at Carl Jr.'s. ' a noun clause?

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Jim,

1 is an adjective clause. It follows the object noun 'idea.' 2 is also an adjective clause. It modifies the object noun 'message' (which is also followed by the prepositional phrase 'to young women' before the adjective clause). 3 is a noun clause. It acts as the object (i.e., it replaces a noun) of the verb 'suggest' (which is followed by the prepositional phrase 'to young men' before the noun clause).

You can learn more about adjective clauses here: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2014/05/08/restrictive-non-restrictive-adjective-clauses/. I plan to blog about noun clauses soon too.

Hope that helps!

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May (Guest)

Hi Tanya,
could you explain this, please:
I suggest...the blue coat rather than the pink one.
a)that you should wear b) you wore c)you to wear
The correct answer is A, but I'm not sure why.
Thanks

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Maya,

Answer A is an example of #4 above (followed by a noun clause) because 'that' introduces the noun clause, 'you' is the subject, and 'should wear' is the verb. You may have been confused because it is repetitive to say both 'suggest' and 'should' since they have similar meanings, so a better choice would be 'I suggest that you wear the blue coat rather than the pink one.' Remember that we often drop 'that' from a noun clause, so 'I suggest you wear the blue coat rather than the pink one' is also correct. As mentioned above in #3 above, a gerund is also possible, so you could also say 'I suggest wearing the blue coast rather than the pink one.'

'I suggest' is in the present tense in your example, which makes the meaning about the present or the future, so choice B is wrong because it's a past verb. Choice C is also wrong because these verbs of suggestion can be followed by a gerund but not by an infinitive (and especially not by a subject + infinitive).

Hope that helps!

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