Read Between The Lines
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In this Explearning Communications lesson, I teach you about illocutionary acts in Speech Act Theory. If you want to become a tactful communicator then you should use illocutionary acts and illocutionary forces. Inferring meaning from context is a powerful skill that enables smooth and strategic communications.

Illocutionary Acts in Speech Act Theory

We’re taught as children to say what we mean, but sometimes it’s not always clear and we have to infer the meaning. We’re going to run through some examples of disguised requests. 

In Speech Act Theory, an illocutionary act is an utterance or sentence that is said to spark an action, which is known as the illocutionary force. The person receiving the illocutionary act has to infer meaning from context by reading between the lines so that they can wither fulfill or deny the request. Either they perform the action that is being asked of them or they don't. 

Let’s break it down for you by answering where, when, and why on earth would you do this?

First let’s have a look at some examples. 

The illocutionary act ; The illocutionary force 

  • Brr… it’s freezing in here! ; Can you turn off the AC please!
  • I’m starved! All I had was one boiled egg. That's all! ; Can you feed me, please?
  • Do we have any shampoo around? ; Can someone procure some shampoo?
  • It’s a million degrees inside! ; Can someone open a window? / Turn on the AC?
  • Rinngggggriiing The phone’s ringing. (uh, duh…) ; Can someone answer the phone?
  • Oh, shoot. I forgot my toothbrush! ; Do you have a spare toothbrush?

The answers to these requests seem so obvious, but it does require you to read between the lines and infer meaning.

Let’s look at the 3 Ws: where/ when / why

Where: At a guest’s house / in a place where you’re the guest / or to be honest, if you’re just plain lazy --- so in this case don’t be surprised if you’re asked to “do it yourself”

Do you hear that? The tea kettle is whistling.  =  Could you turn off the stove, the water has already boiled. 

I heard it. Go deal with it yourself. (in this case, the request was declined)

When: When expressing an intention to do XYZ or a desire. Plainly stated:

(1) When we want something done for us. So this is if you’re lazy pants. 

(2) When we don’t have a specific recipient in mind. We’re just putting it out there in the world. It doesn’t matter if there is only one person or 5 people in the room. (If there’s one other person in the room it’s pretty clear who you’re asking…) (3) it can also be done out of politeness. 

Why: An indirect way of making a request or asking someone to do something. This is what I mean by “disguised requests.” Sometimes it’s intended to be polite. For instance, you may be a guest at someone’s house and you don’t want to be blunt about asking for shampoo if the guest bathroom doesn’t have any so instead you might say “I didn’t see any shampoo in there, do we have any around?” 

Enjoy reading between the lines with the illocutionary acts that become illocutionary forces, so that you can tactfully communicate. 

Happy Explearning 😊

About the Author and the Explearning Academy:

Mary Daphne is an expert in communication, executive interpersonal skills, and personal development. She is the founder of the Explearning Academy, a platform dedicated to helping individuals enhance their social fluency, boost their careers, and elevate their social game. Through immersive group coaching programs like the Executive Communication Lab and self-guided journeys, participants gain the social superpowers and career catapults they've been searching for. If you're ready to take your negotiation skills to the next level and connect with like-minded individuals, visit and explore the various plans available. Join the Explearning Academy community and unlock your full potential.

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