English functions

Disagreeing
Contrasting Ideas
Making Complaints
Asking for Information
Giving Advice
Guessing
Being Imprecise or Vague
Saying ‘No’ Nicely
Showing Preferences
Making Suggestions
Offering Help
Giving Warning
Demanding Explanations

Disagreeing

Here are a number of useful phrases used when disagreeing or expressing another opinion. Notice that a number of these expressions employ the first or second conditional.

  • I wouldn’t do that. I would…
  • But if we…
  • I’m afraid I have to disagree with you.
  • Don’t get me wrong, …
  • Even so, if…
  • Don’t forget that…
  • Very true, but…

Examples:

I wouldn’t do that. I’d speak to the teacher first and see what she says.
But if we don’t make those investments, we’ll risk loosing market share.
Don’t get me wrong, I just think we should look at some other options before making a decision.
Even so, if we change classes this late, we might not get a passing grade.
Don’t forget that we you still need to finish all your homework BEFORE you can do that.
Very true, but we still need to get the garden in shape before building a new deck.

Contrasting Ideas

There are a number of formulas used when contrasting ideas in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • We’d love to stay for dinner, but we have got to get going.
  • They decided to stay in the area, in spite of their problems with the local residents.
  • Despite the difficulties of a long journey, Peter decided to visit India.
  • Getting a good job is hard work, however, most people eventually find one with patience.
  • There were a number of people who came, although the hotels were not equipped to handle them all.
Example Explanation
I’d really like to come to the film, but I have to study tonight. Use a comma or semi colon (;) with ‘but’. ‘But’ is the most common way to show contrasting ideas. 
They continued on their journey, in spite of the pouring rain. Use ‘in spite of’ plus a noun, noun phrase or gerund 
They continued on their journey, despite the pouring rain. Use ‘despite’ plus a noun, noun phrase or gerund
We wanted to buy a sports car, although we knew that fast cars can be dangerous. Use ‘although’ with a subject and a verb

 

 Making Complaints

There are a number of formulas used when complaining in English. It’s important to remember that a direct complaint or criticism in English can sound rude or aggressive. It’s best to mention a problem in an indirect manner. Here are some of the most common:

  • I’m sorry to have to say this but…
  • I’m sorry to bother you, but…
  • Maybe you forgot to…
  • I think you might have forgotten to…
  • Excuse me if I’m out of line, but…
  • There may have been a misunderstanding about…
  • Don’t get me wrong, but I think we should…
Formula Example Finish
I’m sorry to have to say this but I think we need to take another approach.
I’m sorry to bother you, but I think you need to refine this layout.
Maybe you forgot to include his name and number.
I think you might have forgotten to finish the report on time.
Excuse me if I’m out of line, but your work has not been adequate lately.
There may have been a misunderstanding about what I expected from you.
Don’t get me wrong, but I think we should concentrate on the Smith account for the moment.

Asking for Information

There are a number of formulas used when asking for information in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • Could you tell me…?
  • Do you know…?
  • Do you happen to know…?
  • I’d like to know…
  • Could you find out…?
  • I’m interested in…
  • I’m looking for..

These two forms are used for asking for information on the telephone:

  • I’m calling to find out…
  • I’m calling about…

Giving Advice

There are a number of formulas used when Giving Advice in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • I don’t think you should work so hard.
  • You ought to work less.
  • You ought not to work so hard.
  • If I were you, I’d work less.
  • If I were in your position, I’d work less.
  • If I were in your shoes, I’d work less.
  • You had better work less.
  • You shouldn’t work so hard.
  • Whatever you do, don’t work so hard.

Guessing

There are a number of ways to guess in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • I’d say he’s about ready to quite his job.
  • It might need some oil.
  • He could be in the garden.
  • It looks like a miniature motor.
  • Perhaps he needs some time off work.
  • Maybe they want to come and visit this summer.
  • It’s difficult to say, but I’d guess that it’s used for cleaning house.
  • I’m not really sure, but I think they enjoy hiking in the mountains.

Using Vague Expressions – Being Imprecise

There are a number of ways to give imprecise information in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • There are about 600 people working in this company.
  • There are approximately 600 people working in this company.
  • There are a large number of students interested in taking his course.
  • Management predicts up to 50% growth for the coming year.
  • It’s kind of a bottle opener which can also be used to peel vegetables.
  • It’s the type of place you can go to relax for a week or so.
  • They’re the sort of people that like going bowling on Saturday evenings.
  • It’s difficult to say, but I’d guess that it’s used for cleaning house.
  • I’m not really sure, but I think they enjoy hiking in the mountains.

Saying ‘No’ Nicely

Sometimes you need to say no when someone makes a suggestion, offers something or asks you to do something for them. Of course, saying just ‘no’ can be rather rude. Here are some of the most common ways to say ‘no’ nicely – or at least not rudely.

  • Would you like to see a film tonight?
    I’m afraid I can’t go out tonight. I’ve got a test tomorrow.
  • Why don’t we have some Chinese food?
    Sorry, but I don’t particularly like Chinese food.
  • How about taking a nice walk?
    I’d really rather not take a walk this afternoon.
  • Would you like to come to the museum with us?
    Thank you, but it’s not my idea of a fun afternoon out.
  • Let’s go for a drive
    Sorry, I’m not really fond of driving for the fun of it.
  • Why don’t you stay the night?
    That’s very kind of you, but I really have to get back to the city.

NOTE: Notice how we often say ‘thank you’ in some way before refusing the offer. When someone makes an offer it is polite to first thank that person and then say no, often offering an excuse for not wanting or being able to do something. Just saying ‘no’ is considered very rude behavior indeed!

Stating a Preference

Sometimes you need to state a preference when someone makes a suggestion, offers something or asks your opinion about what to do. Often people are asking for your opinion and you can state your preference freely, other times, people have made an offer and you need to state a preference politely if you do not want to do what has been suggested, or would rather do something else.

  • Would you like to see a film tonight?
    I’d rather go dancing. How does that sound?
  • Why don’t we have some chinese food?
    Well, I’d prefer eating Italian. What do you think?
  • What do you think we should do?
    If it were up to me, I’d go out for dinner.
  • What are we going to do today? The weather is awful!
    I think we should go to a museum.Why don’t we go to a museum.Let’s go to a museum.How about going to a museum.
Formula Verb Form
I’d rather… Use the base form the verb without ‘to’ with ‘rather’
I’d prefer… Use the ‘-ing’ form following the verb ‘prefer’
If it were up to me, I’d… Use the second conditional form followed by the base form of the verb without ‘to’
I think we should… Use the base form the verb without ‘to’ following the modal form ‘should’
Why don’t we…? Use the base form of the verb in a question
 
Let’s go … Use the base form of the verb with ‘let’s’
How about…? Use the ‘-ing’ form of the verb after a preposition – here ‘about’

Making Suggestions

There are a number of formulas used when making suggestions in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • Why don’t you / we go to the movies tonight?
  • You / we could visit New York while you’re / we’re there.
  • Let’s go to the travel agent’s this afternoon to book our ticket.
  • What about asking your brother for help?
  • How about going to Hawaii for your vacation?
  • I suggest you / we take all the factors into consideration before we decide.

Offering Help

There are a number of formulas used when offering help in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • May I help you?
  • Can I help you?
  • Are you looking for something?
  • Would you like some help?
  • Do you need some help?
  • What can I do for you today?

Giving Warnings

There are a number of formulas used when Giving Warnings in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • Don’t push so hard on that toy, or you might / will break it!
  • Watch out! Be careful!
  • Work hard otherwise you’ll fail your exam.

Demanding Explanations

Sometimes, things happen that we would like explained and we must demand explanations. For example, if you have just bought a new computer and there is a problem, but the shop assistant says that the guaranty does not cover the problem. There are a number of formulas used when demanding explanations in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • Can you tell me why…
  • I don’t understand why…
  • Can you explain why..
  • Why is it that…
  • How come…
  • Does this mean…
  • Do you really expect me to believe…

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