Advice, complaining, apologising vocab esl

Everyone’s a critic nowadays. Help your students give and receive advice, make a complaint and apologise with these lexical sets.

Each vocabulary topic includes a few simple role plays to help your student practice the targeted vocabulary.

Ways to advise people

To advise (verb)

‘I advise you to accept the position.’

Advice (uncountable noun)

To give some advice.

‘Let me give you some/ a piece/a bit of advice.’

 To take advice – to ask someone to take note of your advice.

‘Take my advice; go travelling when you are young.’

 If I were you + would + infinitive – to put yourself in the position of someone else.

‘If I were you, I would take up their offer to work abroad.’

To warn – to alert.

‘The boss warned the employee that if he continued to behave like this there would be consequences.’

To give/issue a warning

‘The government issued a weather warning: expect heavy rain and possible floods.’

When you don’t want advice

To be nosy – to intrude into other people’s lives (informal).

‘To stop being nosy. I’ll sort this problem out myself.’

To be none of someone’s business – an informal and argumentative phrase to say, ‘don’t intrude.’

‘Her decision is none of your business.’

To get involved in someone’s business – to say you want or don’t want to involve yourself in someone else’s issues.

‘I don’t want to get involved in this problem.’

Speaking practice: Advice role plays

Here the tutor plays the part of the person who needs and advice and the student is the advisor.

  1. The careers councillor: The tutor is a university graduate and the student is a  careers councillor. The councillor must help the graduate find a suitable career by asking questions revealing questions.  
  2. To change jobs or not? The tutor is a colleague who is thinking about switching jobs. The student must advise them about whether this is a good idea or not based on their experience.
  3. Advising a client about a product: The tutor is a client/customer. The student must advise the client on their company’s products or services to help them find the right one for their needs.


To criticise (verb) – to pass judgement on someone or something.

To give constructive criticism – to critique something in a positive way.

‘At work, it’s important to give constructive criticism and not negative criticism to avoid demotivating people.

To critique – to assess something critically, often for pieces of artwork.

‘My colleagues have to critique my work next week. I feel nervous.’

A critic – a person who critiques work.

To give/ receive feedback – to give and receive an evaluation of someone’s work.

To review / a review – to evaluate something or someone; often a film, book, restaurant product or service.

‘That restaurant has great reviews. Let’s eat there.’

A reviewer – a person who reviews something.


To be a perfectionist – someone who always wants things to be perfect.

To be self-critical (adjective) – someone who often criticises themselves.

‘My friend is too self-critical. His work is great but he is a perfectionist.’

To be hard on yourself – someone who is very critical of themselves.

‘Don’t be hard on yourself, no one foresaw that problem.’

Receiving criticism

To have thick skin – to not be affected by negative criticism.

To have thin skin – to be very affected by negative criticism.

‘As an actor, I have to deal with rejection all the time. But it’s OK as I have thick skin. My friend, however, had to quit because he has very thin skin and the criticism was beginning to affect his mental health.’

To take something to heart – to let negative criticism affect you.

‘Don’t take the review to heart. Reviews are subjective and I think that you wrote a great book.’

Extreme criticism

To feel guilty – to feel bad about something.

‘I feel guilty about not telling my boss about the problem.’

To blame someone – to put the guilt on someone.

‘They blamed the train service for being late to the meeting but I know that it was actually because they were in a bar.

To troll someone – to criticise someone in an unfair and offensive way.

To be a troll – a person who criticises people in an unfair and offensive way.

‘There are thousands of trolls on social media. How do we deal with them?’

Speaking practice: Criticism role plays

The student must critique the tutor in these different situations.

End of year review: The tutor is an employee and the student the manager. The manager must give feedback on the employee’s efforts this year.

  • Strong points: When the employee produces work it is normally good.
  • Weak points: The employee is not very productive or organised.

The book review: The tutor is a friend who has written their first novel. The student must give their feedback without destroying their friend’s confidence.

  • Strong points: The idea is quite original.
  • Weak points: The plot isn’t very coherent; the ending makes no sense

A typical work situation: Ask your student to tell you about a situation where they had to be critical. Let them practice that situation with you and give them feedback on how to make it better.

Homework: TED TALK: How to Use Others’ Feedback to Learn and Grow

Harvard Law School lecturer and author Sheila Heen argues that instead of changing the way people give feedback, we should focus on getting better at receiving it.

Apologies and fixing problems

To apologise/ to make an apology

To misunderstand/ a misunderstanding – a confusion or mistake.

‘We’re sorry about the misunderstanding with your bill.’

To reimburse/ to refund – to give back money which was paid.

To exchange – to change one thing for another.

‘I am sorry that the jacket is damaged, we can reimburse you the money or you can exchange it for another.’

Useful phrases

I am sorry to hear that…

Please, accept our apologies for…

We will sort this out immediately

Can you give me some more details about what happened?

It happened by accident…

This was an unforeseen issue…

Speaking practice: Apology role plays

The student must apologise to the tutor in these different situations.

The bad dog: The student’s dog has broken into the tutor’s garden and made a terrible mess. This is the third time it has happened.

The client disaster: The student’s company has disappointed a client or customer with a bad product or service. Allow the student to practice the situation and give them feedback about how to make it better.


To complain – to protest about something you feel is unfair.

Complainer – a person who complains.

To escalate a complaint – to take your complaint to someone higher up the management hierarchy.

To make a complaint – to tell someone responsible about your complaint.  

To lodge a complaint in a system – to input your complaint in a computer system and wait for it to be dealt with another day.

To mislead/ to be misleading – when someone or something gives confusing or false information, to give you the wrong impression.

‘This set menu is misleading. It says it’s a three-course meal for 12 euros, but then you give me the bill and I discover that bread is extra.’


Try this podcast ‘Are you good at complaining?’ from 6 Minute English, BBC to explore complaint language.