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|
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|
Note: Unlike recommend and suggest, advise 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|
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|
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.