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Carefully Considered Nuances

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Advice and Requirements

When you want or need to talk to someone about things they might, should or must do, which words are appropriate?

Situation 1: Friendly conversation making suggestions or giving advice

Moving from gentlest/weakest to strongest:

  • Suggest. This is neutral, unemotional, no authority implied or understood.
    The form is to suggest someone do something, or to suggest someone not do something. Use the basic form of the verb, not the infinitive (i.e. there is no "to").
    • I suggest you take no chance of being late: you can't take your seat after the concert starts.
    • I suggest you not invite friends to a picnic before you check the weather report.
  • Recommend. Now we're moving to personal feeling. To recommend something to someone is to convey your approval.
    • Do you recommend that restaurant?
    • I recommended she take the train rather than drive.
  • Advise. Here there is a note of seriousness. You are looking out for someone's welfare. It's likely you are cautioning someone about something.
    • My doctor advised me not to sunbathe while taking this medicine.
    • I advise you to make a written, dated note of any behavior that offends you.
  • Counsel. Very often used to mean legal counsel and advice. To counsel someone has the air of professionalism. But you may certainly say that your mother or your father counseled you to do or not do something. The word is not restricted by any means; but it conveys seriousness, thoughtfulness, studied consideration.
  • Encourage. Back to a personal feeling. To encourage someone may just be to give support in general, but usually there is a specific aim. There is emotional warmth in encouragement.
    • Her music teacher encouraged her to apply to the conservatory.
    • He was very shy about speaking in front of the class, but his friends encouraged him and he overcame his fear.
  • Urge. Now we're getting pushy. Think of the cognate urgent. When you urge someone, there is emotion, often of anxiety or excitement, and indeed, a sense of urgency. You are saying that this is important, almost a must.
    • I urged my neighbor to put her money in a savings account and stop hiding it under her mattress!
    • She urged me to get tickets for Saturday's concert, and I'm so glad she did. It was outstanding.

Situation 2: Forceful conversation, whether from authority or emotion

  • Demand. When you demand, you surely hope not to negotiate. You want something, or you want something done, and you act as if you have the authority to insist. And if an authority demands, there is no choice to be made.
    • The apartment management demands that people clean up after their dogs.
    • Immigration demands that you your show passport when you enter the country.
  • Insist. This is when you will accept no alternative. It's a sticking point, something non-negotiable.
    • She reads all the time. If her mother didn't insist she take a break, I think she would never go outdoors.
    • I didn't want to attend the dinner, but my boss insisted.
  • Require. Nice and simple. If something is required, it must be done or obtained. Of course this comes from some sort of authority, whether of a personal or official nature.
    The form is to require someone to do something, or to require someone to not do something, which would be the same as requiring someone to forego something.
    • The university requires students to pay their tuition before the term begins. (Passive voice would be natural here: The university requires tuition to be paid before the term begins. It takes very little modification to use a subjunctive construction for either of those sentences.)

Further notes

A person can insist on doing something. Insist on, insist upon, either preposition is acceptable but on is usual. Note that the action is expressed with a gerund. Example situation: Friends out for drinks or a meal. One takes the check, ready to pay it, but another or others offer to divide it. Friend taking the check says, "No, I insist," to end any discussion of the matter. Later you would say, "X insisted on paying for all of us!" - which is to say, X treated everyone.

From "Advice and counsel means legal assistance that is limited to the review of information relevant to the client’s legal problem(s) and counseling the client on the relevant law and/or suggested course of action. Advice and counsel does not encompass drafting of documents or making third-party contacts on behalf of the client."

Final demand- which I hope you only learn about from movies and tv dramas - is a notice of an unpaid bill from a creditor who will wait no longer. From a utility company, such as for electricity, gas, water, internet, television or telephone, a final demand is a notice that service will be cut off in a day or two. From any other entity, it is a notice that legal action will begin.

Language-related comments are always welcome!

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