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Hey there, could you stop what you’re doing and read this? Thank you!

Did you know that the first sentence you just read is an example of a directive? But what is a directive and why are they used? We will explore the definition of a directive in relation to speech acts. We will also look at examples of the different types of directives and consider the effects each of them has on a listener.

Directives and speech acts

A speech act is an utterance that has a purpose in communication. Whenever we speak, we are also carrying out an action. These actions can be referred to as illocutionary acts, which are broken down into five categories: assertive, directive, commissive, expressive and declarative.

Directives: definition

In linguistics, a directive speech act is an utterance that aims to get someone to carry out an action. This category of speech acts includes commands, requests, invitations, advice, and suggestions. The key aspect of a directive is that it seeks to influence the behaviour or actions of the listener. For example, in the sentence 'Could you close the door?', the speaker is using a directive to request that the listener perform a specific action.

Directive synonyms

The term directives when used as a speech act is very similar to the noun directive. We can better understand what a directive speech act is if we look at the synonyms for 'directive.' Some of these are:

  • Command
  • Instruction
  • Demand
  • Direction
  • Rule
  • Prescription
  • Dictate
  • Regulation
  • Ruling
  • Decree
  • Order

When is a directive used?

A directive is used when a speaker tries to get a listener to do something, usually for the benefit of themselves.

There are different ways of achieving this; it depends on what the speaker wants from the listener! In accordance with Searle’s speech act classification, we will now focus on the different types of directives. These are:

  • Asking/Questioning
  • Requesting
  • Ordering/Commanding
  • Begging
  • Inviting
  • Suggesting/Advising

Directives in sentences

Directives can come in different forms: as declarative sentences, as interrogative questions and as imperative sentences. You'll be able to see examples of different forms of directives in sentences within the examples below.

Directive examples

Now let's have a look at the different types of directives in speech acts:

  1. Command: "Shut the door."
  2. Request: "Could you please help me with this report?"
  3. Advice: "You should try studying in the library."
  4. Suggestion: "How about we go to the park this weekend?"
  5. Invitation: "Would you like to join us for dinner tonight?"
  6. Warning: "Be careful with that hot coffee."
  7. Order: "Stop talking and focus on your work."
  8. Requirement: "You must submit your assignment by Friday."
  9. Prohibition: "Don't touch the wet paint."
  10. Instruction: "First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees."

Each of these examples seeks to influence the behaviour or actions of the listener, which is the primary purpose of directive speech acts.


This type of directive refers to when a speaker asks a question to get a reply. The speaker would probably be asking the listener something that they do not already know, so would want a reply that answers their question. Sometimes, asking someone something can lead to another question in return.

In terms of grammar, asking a question is an interrogative.

Speaker: Where did you get your shirt from?

Listener: I got it from H&M.

Speaker: Are you busy tomorrow?

Listener: No, I’m free tomorrow. We should hang out!

Speaker: Who is your favourite singer?

Listener: I love Miley Cyrus.


Requesting is used by the speaker to get something from the listener. Making a request is usually seen to be more formal than simply asking a question, as it asks more of the listener. This is not to say that a request is always totally different from a question; a request can still be an interrogative. However, it does not always have to be; it could also be an imperative!

A request is often used with ‘please’ as a way of showing respect and politeness. Requests often begin with modal verbs such as ‘can/could/would’ to ask for permission and show the listener that they are not obliged to give an answer or do something for the speaker. This is another way to be polite as it does not assume that the listener will give their full attention to the speaker, they can instead choose whether or not to respond.

Unlike a simple question that usually requires an answer that does not need further explanation or action, a response to a request usually starts with an answer which leads into an action for the benefit of the speaker.

Below are examples of interrogative requests:

Speaker, in a restaurant: “Can I get the bill please?”

Waiter/waitress response: Yes of course. *Gets the bill*

Speaker, to a passerby: Could you tell me where the nearest toilet is?

Passerby response: Yes, there’s one down this street, to the left *gestures/gives directions*

Below are examples of imperative requests:

Speaker: Could you all please take a seat.

Listener response: *sits down*

Speaker: Would you please reply by Saturday at the latest.

Listener response: *replies within time frame*


This kind of directive refers to a speaker telling the listener to do (or not do) something. It can be persuasive, or even manipulative.

Directives, A chalkboard with 'follow the rules!' written on it. StudySmarterFig. 1 - Directives such as orders or command can be direct, persuasive, or manipulative,

In terms of grammar, sentences that order/command can be referred to as imperatives. Depending on the tone of the command, they can be written using different punctuation. For example, someone could say a simple command in a casual tone of voice, so when written it would end with a full stop. OR, they could express a feeling of impatience or frustration, so an exclamation mark would be used at the end to signify this.

“Julie, shut the door please.”

“Put the plate in the dishwasher.”

“Don’t touch me!”


Begging is used when someone really wants something from someone else. It is said in a more desperate tone than simply requesting, which highlights the sense of urgency.

Directives Picture of woman begging StudySmarterFig. 2 - Begging in directives can convey a sense of urgency or desperation.

Usually, the word ‘please’ is used to be polite and help persuade the listener. Also, intensifiers (such as ‘really’ or ‘very’) are used for emphasis. Or, the word ‘beg/begging’ itself can be used within a begging utterance. It's kind of like when you say "I apologise", as what is said means the same as the actual act of apologising.

When written, exclamation marks and uppercase words are used to convey strong emotions and desperation. Begging can be asked like a question or uttered like a statement.

“Please Marie, I REALLY need money!”

“I’m begging you, stay away from me!”

“PLEASE can I have a biscuit?”


Inviting refers to when someone tempts someone else to do something or go somewhere. They can be asked in the form of a question or declared in the form of a statement. The latter is usually used more for formal occasions.

A wedding invitation,

eg.: 'You have been invited to the wedding of Mr and Mrs Jones.'

“Would you like to come with me to the zoo?”

“Do you want to go to the cinema?”


This refers to when someone puts forward an idea to another person. Unlike commands, it does not directly tell someone to do something, it instead persuades them to consider a different view or approach. Many suggestions begin with the adverbs ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’ or ‘possibly’ to indicate that it is not a direct order and is open to further discussion. Modal verbs also tend to be used, such as ‘could’, ‘would’ and ‘should’ to show possibility, or simply to be polite! Suggestions are often said with rising intonation at the end to indicate a questioning tone. When written, this means they end with a question mark.

“Perhaps you could change the colour of the walls?”

“Maybe you should talk to her about it?”

“This could possibly be a more effective way?”

Directives - Key takeaways

  • A directive sentence is a speech acts which has the primary purpose to get someone to do something.

  • Asking/questioning refers to when a speaker wants to know something, so asks the listener a question.

  • Requesting refers to when the speaker wants something from the listener. It is usually more polite and formal than asking a simple question. It can be either in the form of an interrogative or an imperative.

  • Ordering/commanding refers to when the speaker tells the listener to do something. Begging refers to when the speaker really wants something from the listener. It is more extreme than a request.

  • Inviting refers to when the speaker tempts the listener to do something or go somewhere. Suggesting/advising refers to when the speaker tries to persuade the listener to consider another point of view.

Frequently Asked Questions about Directives

A directive is an utterance that directs a person to carry out an action. 

An example of a directive is "Put the plates away." (command/order).

You can write a directive sentence in different ways, depending on what you want someone to do. For example, you could ask someone something by writing a question. Or, you could tell someone to do something by writing a command.

A directive refers to an utterance (spoken language) that tells/asks someone to do something. An imperative refers to a sentence (spoken or written language) that uses the imperative mood, which is also used to direct people to do something.  

The purpose of a directive is for a speaker to try and get the listener to carry out an action.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

What type of directive is always an interrogative?

True or false: Requesting is always an interrogative.

What type of directive can be persuasive or manipulative?


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