Giving Advice with ‘should’, ‘if I were you’ and ‘had better’
Happy New Year! It’s 2021 and time to look forward to the year ahead. In the words of John Lennon ‘Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.’
Of course at the start of a new year we often make new year’s resolutions. We try to give up bad habits or take up new hobbies. Personally, I’m giving up being a coach potato and taking up going for long walks every day. Let’s see how long that lasts!
It’s also a time of year when we might give advice to our nearest and dearest.
For example we might say:
You should stop eating so much chocolate.
If I were you, I’d take up jogging.
You had better start looking if you want to find a new job.
In this Central School of English blog post we’ll be looking at different ways of giving advice in English using the modal verb should and the phrases if I were you and had better.
The most common way to give advice in English is to use the modal verb ‘should’ + the infinitive of a main verb.
Should - Positive sentences
To form a positive statement using should we use the structure should + infinitive without ‘to’
I should go.
You should go.
He should go.
She should go.
It should go.
We should go.
You should go.
They should go.
Now let’s look at an example of the modal verb ‘should’ used to communicate advice.
If your friend tells you that they have an exam tomorrow, you can can give them advice. You might say:
You should study this evening.
You should go to bed early and rest.
If your friend tells you that they are going to Ireland, you can give them some advice. You might say:
You should pack an umbrella.
You should take a raincoat.
Should - Negative sentences
To form a negative statement using should we use the structure should + not + infinitive without ‘to’.We generally use the contracted form shouldn’t
I shouldn’t go.
You shouldn’t go.
He shouldn’t go.
She shouldn’t go.
It shouldn’t go.
We shouldn’t go.
You shouldn’t go.
They shouldn’t go.
When we use the form ‘shouldn’t’ to give advice, we are communicating that we think a particular action is a bad idea at that time. For example, if your friend tells you that they are ill, you can give them advice by saying:
You shouldn’t go to work today.
If your friend tells you ‘I have a job interview tomorrow’, you might give them advice and say:
You shouldn’t be late for the interview.
If your friend tells you ‘my flight is at 6am tomorrow morning’, you might give them advice and say:
You shouldn’t stay up late tonight.
Should - Questions
To form a question using should we use the structure should + subject + infinitive without ‘to’.
Should I go?
Should you go?
Should he go?
Should she go?
Should it go?
Should we go?
Should you go?
Should they go?
For example, if you are going on holiday you might ask some friends for advice on where to go. You might ask questions like:
Should I go in June or July?
Should I visit the north or south?
Should I fly or go by train?
Which food should I try?
Where should I stay?
How much money should I take?
If I were you
Although using the modal verb should + infinitive is the most common way to give advice in English, there are several other expressions we can use when we want to give people advice. One of these expressions is if I were you.
When we use the expression if I were you to give advice, we must use the modal verb would + the infinitive of the main verb.
If your friend tells you that they have a headache you can give them advice. You might say:
If I were you, I would take an aspirin.
Or you might say:
If I were you, I would lie down for a while.
If your friend tells you that they want to go on holiday, you might say:
If I were you, I would go to the beach.
If I were you, I would go to a hot country
In each example, we use the construction if I were you because we want to give advice.
When giving advice in English, we can also use the structure had better.
We use the structure had better + the infinitive of a main verb when we want to give strong advice.
Sometimes, it is necessary to give strong advice to let the listener know that what we are saying is very important
If your friend is sick, you might say:
You had better take the medicine correctly.
In this situation we can use the structure had better plus the infinitive because taking medication correctly is very important.
Here is a second example of the use of had better to give strong advice
If someone is going to catch a flight at the airport, you might say:
You had better remember your passport.
In this situation we can use the structure had better plus the infinitive of a main verb because we cannot fly without our passport
Now let’s look at another example. If someone has a traffic accident you might say:
You had better phone the police to report the accident.
Resolution: a firm decision to do something
To pack: to put things in a bag or suitcase before going on holiday
To give up (something): To stop doing an activity, often a bad habit Example: Jane gave up smoking last year and feels much healthier now.
To take up (something): To start doing a regular activity, often a new hobby or sport Example: Dave took up playing tennis last year and is really fit now.
Coach potato: a lazy person who watches a lot of television and does not have an active life. Example: My flat mate is such a coach potato. He watches Netflix or plays video games all day and rarely leaves the house.
Nearest and dearest: your family, especially those you live with or spend a lot of time with. Example: I always spend Christmas with my nearest and dearest.