Giving Instructions in English, clear but polite, a fine balance.

Being able to give good clear instructions is an important skill to learn both for your career and family life. To avoid having to do everything in life yourself, you are going to have to learn to delegate, but to do that you need to be able to give good clear instructions. If you neglect to tell people how to do something, the chances are that the task will be done in a different way (not necessarily worse I hasten to add) but giving instructions gives you a handle on quality control.

Delegation frees up your time for what you do best.

Coco’s Britspeak Byte

The Brits are a polite nationality, we insist on pleases and thank you’s. We are a little odd; we apologise, even though it was us that got pushed and shoved. We are a generally quite a chaotic nationality by German standards and yet we like to keep things fair by joining a queue in an orderly line. We complain about those very same queues but would never push without asking or sneak in at the front.

We generally try to avoid confrontations and keep to first names because being liked and approachable are seen to be key leadership values. Ultimately being liked and a team player are both more important than being right or first.

Giving instructions and taking on the role of boss can be a real challenge for many Brits because clear instructions are clear and consise, the Brits feel bossy without politeness to protect them and nobody likes a ‘bossy boots’. (A  poem to demonstrate)

The right structures to give easy to follow instructions.

In theory at least, in the English language, we use the imperative form to give directions.

1. “Take the bus to Zoologischer Garten, then walk to the Hop on/Hop off bus stop on Kururstendamm, Keep going until you get to Kaufhaus des Westens. The sightseeing buses stop right there!”

(not ride the bus, that would make it sound like you were sitting on the roof)

2. “Turn left and go straight on.”

3. “Do something in English for at least ten minutes a day, every day!”

4. “Be careful!”

5. “Take your time” can loosely be translated as ‘pay attention to the details’, depending on the situation.

6. “Please take a seat.” Request

7. “May I take your coat” Invitation 

8″Take a seat.” Command

NOT “I take your coat” Daylight robbery 😉

Instructions Vocabulary
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Infinitives first for imperative Instructions

Let’s take a look at how to use the imperative. Firstly, you need to work out what the infinitive form of the verb is (to go, to sit, to take, to drive etc), now just forget about the ‘to’ and you are ready to put that infinitive at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis.

Get ready

Go to the meeting, I’ll join you in there

Try to contact the client again, we need his support with the beta testing by the end of the week if we are to keep to schedule.

 To make it negative, it’s easy, just put a  “do not” or “don’t” before  the  verb.

 Don’t is less assertive or strict than “do not”.


Don’t go to lunch without me, I’m just finishing this email!”

Do not leave your computer on when you leave the office.”


Giving instructions

You might well be familiar with the imperative form if you are the

type of person that reads instruction manuals. In the spoken English

language we also use the same format to show someone how to do

something. Check out the huge range of “How to…” videos to see

how versatile this structure is.

It is helpful in terms of helping someone to get their head around

the bigger picture.


We tend to use “sequencing” words to give details of the steps in the process.



For example “firstly“, “secondly” and”finally” helps a lot.

Even simple instructions can be broken into ‘byte sized’ chunks.

Firstly, open the lid of the printer

Secondly, check which cartridges need changing

Then, unwrap a new cartridge and slot it firmly into position

Finally, close the lid and test the printer.


Watch this How To Video

It’s about how this father to a teenager tries to break down the clearly monumental (huge) instructions of changing a toilet role.


People also say “after that” instead of “then” and “first” / “second”

instead of “firstly” and “secondly”.


Breaking something down into manageable steps will make it much

easier for people to understand the process, making your business

communication more effective.

Tips & Tricks

When you are giving instructions, you can help the other person to

follow your instructions with additional information and advice.

Remember: have the cartridge handy, before you open the printer

Be careful not to … put the empty cartridge down in a way that left

over ink can leak and damage a desk or the carpet.

Try to … have your printer at a height where it is easy to get to

Try not to … change the cartridges unless they are really empty

You need to … check that the paper is correctly aligned too

It’s important to … order more cartridges when there are only two

more in the storage cupboard.

Examples of Imperatives in a Dialogue to provide instructions.

It helps to … get the cartridge before you open the printer

Make/Be sure to … reload the paper at the same time so that any

backlog in printing can be quickly processed without further


Always … check your printer in tray and delete any duplicate print


Never … take the last cartridge without checking that new ones

have been ordered.


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This clarity would make it easy to understand.  Unfortunately, native

speakers like to take the sting out of instructions by adding

colloquialisms without even realising it,

Use adjectives and adverbs.

This adds an element of ‘how to’ to your instructions. Compare.

1. Rehearse your speech beforehand, making notes on your script.

2. Rehearse your speech repeatedly beforehand, read slowly and

clearly and make notes on your script in green so that you can edit

your script to reflect your own personal speaking style.




We can also use the imperative form to give a warning or advice,

and (if you use “please”) to make a request.

The Devil is in the Detail

Subsequently (after you have given the basic instructions) , to be more specific, you might want to use words like simultaneously, immediately, incidentally.

Instructions Made Easy

Big words perhaps, you might think. Is it really necessary to use such complicated words? Well it depends on whether you are giving instructions to your child about how to open a can of sweetcorn or whether you are showing your deputy how to handle the press in a crisis doesn’t it?


Instructions Ask for the Meaning
It is better feel silly for a moment than ignorant for a lifetime

One thing is certain, if the person carrying out the instructions does not understand these words and is not self-confident enough to confirm their meaning, then frustration is inevitable.




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    1. Corinne Wilhelm

      May 29, 2017 at 5:27 am

      Hi there and thanks for getting in touch. I am glad that you enjoyed what you have read so far and that you’ll be back soon. In the meantime here are some writing tips for you.

      1. Write anything at all down that you would like to write about, I use post it notes so that I can move them around to form a structure.
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      4. Be crystal clear about who you are writing for, in my case I am writing for my ideal customer. I know everything about her, how she would react to what I write, what facial expressions she would have etc
      5. Just go for it and force yourself to write something and normally the brain snaps out of it.

      Hope that helps.


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    1. Corinne Wilhelm

      May 29, 2017 at 5:07 am

      Thank you, much appreciated.


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    1. Corinne Wilhelm

      May 22, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      Thank you, I have since started adding more photos, videos and audio files. Feel free to check out my videos on you tube at or my audio files on soundcloud at I also do a live show on Tuesdays on my Facebook page “Professional English for Women” called “The Byte Sized English Show”


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    1. Corinne Wilhelm

      May 22, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Wonderful that you are going to tell your brother, I love it when people pass on the word, that always makes my day! Hugs


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    1. Corinne Wilhelm

      May 19, 2017 at 2:04 pm

      Hi there, I have had people steal my courses, repurpose my grammar notes and all of that before but if you keep it to yourself nobody gets to see your talents either, do they? I find that the more I give, the more I get back and if someone abuses that it is unfortunate but human nature. I try to add plenty of my personality which I hope helps, but for instance, your kind words and the words of others that appreciate what I do are worth a lot too, it means that I am on track.

    2. Corinne Wilhelm

      May 22, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      I am sorry that this has happened to you. Including your brand and copyright on content is a first step but certainly no guarantee. The trick is to be known for creating great information and support and adding your personal touch. If you have a serial offender I would get in touch with them, to let them know that you are aware of what is happening and for them to please ask for your permission next time, most people are embarrassed and stop.


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    1. Corinne Wilhelm

      May 19, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      Fabulous, glad that I could help. I used to do a really fun exercise with kids when I was in the UK, we got them to put on an Indian Sari, it was quite hilarious! Those things are so difficult to get organised, with so much material and it is so beautiful that you don’t want it on the floor.

      Thank you Fideli for taking the time and courage to comment, that means a lot to me, and apologies for not getting in touch earlier, I have only just discovered a huge backlog of comments, how embarrassing. I’m glad you are enjoying it, feel free to sign up for my newsletter via Let me know the biggest thing that is slowing you down with learning English, what holds you back, what makes you feel uncomfortable?

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