Functions of English: Persuasive Language
“It’s easy to tell someone what to do – but very hard to make them do it”
What is persuasive language?
Persuasive language is language used to convince, ask for things and sway opinions. Persuasive language is a tricky aspect of learning English, perhaps even the trickiest to truly master. While there are some phrases and words that can help you along with persuading someone, persuasion itself is an art. It is a complex blend of not just saying the right thing, saying it at the right time, and saying it in the right way.
Why would we use it?
Persuasion is a common aspect of language we use when we want to gain somebody’s trust, for them to do something, or to think differently from how they currently think. Persuasive language is all around us – it’s often used in marketing and advertising, or social media influencers, but also just by the people around us in everyday life. Political campaigns, news stories, your teacher telling you to do your homework on time, or a friend recommending a restaurant are examples which often contain persuasive language.
How do I master it?
Persuasive language takes a lot of practice. But there are 3 things that you need to get right in order to persuade someone:
Content – What you are saying
Timing – When you are saying it, and finally,
Tone and Politeness – How you are saying it.
It can be hard to persuade someone, but the following examples of persuasive language can all be factors in convincing someone successfully:
Enhancing the truth a little to make something sound more appealing.
“I’m telling you, it’s the best pizza in the whole world!”
2 Using emotional language
Language that evokes a particular emotion, (e.g., guilt, sadness, excitement).
“There are thousand of starving people in the world, so you should eat the rest of your dinner.”
3 Using flattery
By giving the person you want to persuade a compliment, it can make them more inclined to agree with you.
“Somebody as strong as you would be able to help me move to a new house so easily!”
4 Rhetorical questions
A question that the answer seems obvious to, and does not require an answer, used for dramatic effect or to emphasise a point.
“Who doesn’t like ice cream?”
5 Imperative phrases
Often a call to action to ask you to do something and act quickly.
“Join in now, and don’t miss out!”
6 Careful use of personal pronouns
Using particular personal pronouns, such as ‘we’ or ‘us’, can help people feel included.
“We are the best town in the whole country”
7 Groups of Three
Grouping things in three is very common in English to make things sound as if they belong to a significant group, but without overwhelming the person listening.
“I hope that it brings you happiness, joy, and comfort!”
Providing evidence is often crucial in persuading your audience. Claims that aren’t backed up with evidence are often seen as much weaker than those with evidence.
“This is true in about 90% of cases, so the chances are very high!”
Weaving your persuasive language into a story is one of the most effective ways of convincing someone of something – people love to hear a story. This is why so many advertisers use stories in their promotions.
“My friend was walking down the street when he saw the Mario’s restaurant, and just decided to go inside, even though he’d never heard of it before. He went in and had the best meal of his life; he says it’s much better than Luigi’s restaurant!”
Timing is important when it comes to persuasion, catching someone in a bad mood, changing the topic suddenly to persuade someone of something unrelated, or dominating a conversation with persuasion can cause people to be less receptive to persuasive language. Choose your moment wisely!
Tone and Politeness
Tone is important – you aren’t going to persuade someone of something if it sounds like you aren’t excited or enthusiastic about it yourself. If you want to practice your persuasive speech, try talking about something you are passionate about!
An old-fashioned, (and now grammatically outdated) phrase persists in Britain –
“Manners maketh man”.
Dating back up to 600 years, the phrase suggests that it is politeness that separates humankind from the animal world, and we still use it from time to time!
Politeness is really important in the English language, particularly in British English, so don’t forget your “P’s & Q’s” (‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’). Your attempts at persuasion may fail if you seem rude to the other person.
‘You must…’, and imperative phrases such as ‘Complete these by next week’, or ‘Choose this one, not that one’ can impart a sense of urgency about a situation, but can come across as very rude, particularly in spoken English.
Try softening your language and use phrases such as ‘you should consider…’ instead of ‘you must’ and preface imperatives with ‘Please could you..’, or ‘I think you should’ to soften their impact.
Remember not to be too soft, however, adding too many softening words and phrases such as maybe, perhaps, or ‘I think’ can lessen the impact of what you’re trying to say, so perhaps just one per sentence!
When using persuasive language, we should consider our agenda – what we want to persuade the other person of. We should also be very careful of what the other person’s agenda is, as sometimes it might not be the best thing for you – particularly when it comes to marketing and advertising, political messages, or news stories. They may contain false information as evidence, target your existing fears to get an emotional response, and use flattery and personal pronouns to make you feel involved, when really you are not.
Persuasive language can be used with positive intentions or negative intentions, so make sure to only use all of your persuasive superpowers you learn in English for good and not for evil!
Daily English & Speaking Club
If you like learning English in Context, you may be interested in our Daily English & Speaking Club