English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What are the differences between offer, propose, and suggest?

share|improve this question

The differences are of formality, weight, and exchange.is

As Aaron's answer illustrates, offer has an element of exchange or cost implied. For example, the phrase "make an offer" when negotiating the price of something. An offer is from some party to another party, whether you're offering your hand (to balance somebody), your house (to host a party), or a discount (on the sale of an item).

Suggest and propose differ in their level of formality and weight. For example, food often comes with a "Serving Suggestion" (we think about this much would be a good portion) — using propose here would seem overly formal.

Suggest is also used to distinguish between a recommendation and an order. "I suggest you do this" has a different tone to "Do this." Sometimes an intensifier is used to convey that what is formally only a suggestion is actually a command "I strongly suggest you [x]..."

Propose is the most formal. You propose to your girlfriend that the pair of you get married; it's unlikely that you would suggest the same thing. The best working definition of propose I can think of is "to make a formal submission for appraisal." This is why researches write proposals for research funding and not suggestions.

Does that help?

share|improve this answer
  • Suggest an idea to grab something sweet
  • Propose we go eat ice cream
  • Offer to pay for the ice cream
share|improve this answer
Very elegant :) – chaos Mar 1 '11 at 21:37
Let me offer this nitpick: I propose that it's possible for someone to suggest we go eat ice cream. – Robusto Apr 4 '11 at 19:47

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.