22 February, 2018
Imagine that you haven't seen a good friend in a month. In a telephone call, your friend tells you she would like to get together for dinner but can't think of a restaurant to go to. So, you offer an idea.
Listen to a short conversation:
I'd love to have dinner on Friday but I'm not sure where.
How about we go to Chez Philip?
Great idea! I haven't been there in over a year.
The phrase How about is one common way to make a friendly suggestion in English. To make a suggestion means to offer an idea or plan for someone to think about.
You probably already know a few ways to make suggestions in English, using words such as could or should.
But, on this Everyday Grammar program, we'll talk about common phrases you can use for making friendly suggestions. We use many of these phrases in question form.
Let's start by talking a little more about the phrase How about.
When you ask a question using How about, you are asking someone if they agree with what you are suggesting.
There are two structures for using this phrase. The first is:
How about + subject + simple verb form
Let's listen to the first example again:
How about we go to Chez Philip?
In this example, the subject is we, and the verb is go.
The second structure for using How about is:
How about + gerund
How about going to Chez Philip?
In this example, the subject is still we, although is not directly stated. Instead, the subject is implied. And, going is the gerund form of the verb go.
You can also use How about + gerund to make a suggestion for an action that does not involve you. For example:
How about starting a group for English learners?
The phrase What about is very similar to How about.
You can replace the phrasing How about + gerund with What about + gerund to express the same meaning. For example:
What about going to Chez Philip?
However, What about + gerund is less common in American English than in other types of English.
Something that English learners will notice is that native English speakers often leave out both the subject and verb when we use What about and How about to make suggestions. Listen:
How about Chez Philip?
What about Chez Philip?
Why don't is very similar to How about and What about. The difference here is that we ask the question using the negative don't.
The structure is: Why don't + subject + simple verb form
Let's hear our example again, but this time with Why don't:
Why don't we go to Chez Philip?
Why not also uses the negative not. But this phrase is a little different from the other phrases. It is usually used to make more general suggestions. Advertisers often use Why not for selling products or services.
The structure is Why not + simple verb form
Why not treat yourself to a Caribbean holiday?
In this example, the subject is you, but it is not directly stated. And, the verb is treat.
Using Shall is another way to make a suggestion. However, it sounds a lot more formal and is more common in British English than American English.
The structure is: shall + subject + simple verb form
Shall we go to Chez Philip?
One thing to note when using Shall to make suggestions: it is only used with the subjects I and we. We would not say, Shall you to offer an idea.
Sometimes, suggestions are expressed in statements instead of questions, such as with the phrase Let's.
Let's is a contraction for the words let us. It is used to tell someone what you want to do with them.
The structure is Let's + simple verb form
Let's go to Chez Philip!
In this sentence, the subject is us.
So, how do you respond to friendly suggestions? You can either accept or decline.
A few phrases for accepting a suggestion are:
That's a good/great idea!
That sounds good/great.
Thanks! I'd love to.
A few phrases for declining a suggestion include:
That's a good idea but...
I'm not sure.
When you decline a suggestion, you may want to then politely suggest something else. For example:
I'm not sure. Chez Philip is not my favorite. How about Fearless Farmers?
Making and responding to suggestions in English takes practice. But it's one of the more fun things you can do with a classmate, friend or family member.
You can also practice in our comments section. Try using a few of the phrases you learned today to make a friendly suggestion.
I'm Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
conversation – n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people
gerund – n. an English noun formed from a verb by adding -ing
imply – v. to express something without saying or showing it plainly
negative – n. a word or statement that means "no" or that expresses a denial or refusal
formal – adj. suitable for serious or official speech and writing
prefer – v. to like something better than something else
contraction – n. the act or process of making something smaller or of becoming smaller
decline – v. to say no to something in a polite way
polite – adj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people
practice – v. to do something again and again in order to become better at it