How to Make Polite, Indirect Suggestions

Direct suggestions have their place. Sometimes you need to boldly express yourself. For these situations, you shouldyou need to, and you have to are perfectly acceptable.

But you can’t always use these expressions. If you are talking to your supervisor, an important client, or someone you don’t know very well, indirect expressions might be a better choice.

Here are 4 tips and 13 expressions for making indirect, polite suggestions.


1. Turn your suggestion into a question

You might sound like a know-it-all if you make direct suggestions before knowing all the facts. This is why it’s often better to offer your suggestion in the form of the question.

Here are some expressions you can use:

• Have you thought about…?
• Have you considered…?
• What if you/we…?
• Could you/we…?
• Would you/we be able to…?

Two grammar points:

1. We use the gerund after consider and about. (“Have you considered getting a new car?”/”Have you thought about getting a new car?”)

2. We often use the simple past after What if you/we…? to make our suggestion less direct. (“What if we looked into other options?”)


2. Use tentative language

Native speakers subconsciously use words like perhapsmaybemightmay, and could to “soften” a suggestion. Simply adding the word maybe before saying “you should” can make a world of difference in terms of politeness.

Here are some expressions you can use:

• You might want to think about…
• You might want to consider…
• Perhaps you/we could…
• Maybe you/we could…
• It may be a good idea to…
• It might be a good idea to…

Two things to consider:

1. Perhaps sounds formal in American English. Maybe is usually a better choice for informal situations.

2. May and might can be used interchangeably in this context.


3. Use past tenses

With suggestions, we often use the past progressive and simple past. Using these tenses makes the suggestion less direct, and therefore more polite.

Here are two expressions you can use:

• I was thinking we could…
• I thought we could…

Of course, this technique doesn’t work for suggestions that you’ve just thought of. You can’t say “I was thinking we could…” if you’ve just thought of an idea.


4. Use the word we whenever possible

We sounds collaborative. You can sound accusatory. If you have a suggestion for a group to which you belong, use we.


You’ll find this advice in numerous other posts, but it bears repeating: Don’t rely on direct translations from your native language. These expressions may not be appropriate in English.

Also, remember that it’s better to be too polite than not polite enough. If you’re unsure whether to use a direct expression or an indirect expression, go with the indirect one.