Understanding And Using The Milton Model 8: Embedded Suggestions

Intonation patterns‘Embedded Suggestions’ are one of the most important Milton Model patterns for influence and getting people to do what you want them to do.

With embedded suggestions, you can embed a word or phrase within the longer sentence that your listener’s conscious mind hears, in a way that the unconscious mind hears the embedded suggestion even if the conscious mind doesn’t.

Now actually, because you’re learning these patterns, I want you to notice embedded suggestions consciously as well. Milton Erickson used to subtly mark out the embedded suggestions – with a change of tone, or by pausing before each one, or with a significant look, or an emphasising gesture, or where it’s appropriate you could do it with a touch.

This is called analogue marking – you mark out the words of the suggestions, which of course are in the ‘auditory digital’ modality, with a change in another channel – auditory tonal for pauses or changes of tone, visual for a look or a gesture, and kinaesthetic if you were to use a touch. Another example of analogue marking would be the ‘swisssh’ noise in the Swish Pattern.

If you read this article carefully, you’ll notice me use all kinds of embedded suggestions, including ones I’m not consciously aware of – my unconscious mind has been doing this for so long it can just generate embedded suggestions easily.

Let’s flag up some explicit examples of embedded suggestions:

“I don’t know how soon you’ll begin to feel better

“When you’re ready to go ahead, perhaps you can give me a call

“What factors tell you when it’s time to buy

There’s a subset of embedded suggestions called ‘conversational postulates’, where the suggestion or command is embedded in a yes/no question: “Are you able to give me that order now?” “Are you ready to let me on the computer?”

Technically, these are questions about the listener’s ability or readiness, and you would ask them when you know the answer is ‘yes’. But really, you’re asking for the order or for computer access.

I’m sure you can see that it’s easy to embed suggestions in everyday conversation in such a way that you still make sense to the conscious mind overall. My advice would be to underdo it rather than overdo it – even if you didn’t emphasise the suggestions at all, the unconscious mind is still processing them, and you don’t want to set off alarm bells with the conscious mind by appearing to speak oddly.

Now, with the last few examples, like “What factors tell you when it’s time to buy?, the form of the words is a question, but you might mark out “it’s time to buy” with a slight command tonality – your voice would go down at the end of the phrase – which turns it into a command.

So it’s worth mentioning three types of intonation. Where the voice goes up at the end of the phrase, in English that traditionally indicates a question. Where the voice stays level, that indicates a statement. And where the voice goes down, that indicates a command.

You understand this?

You understand this.

You understand this.

The rising intonation is a form of analogue marker that tells the listener’s unconscious mind to pay attention, this is a question. The downward intonation is another analogue marker that says “pay attention, this is a command.”

There are actually two ways in English that you can tell whether what someone is saying is a question or not. One is that rising intonation, and the other is the syntax or word order. The most common question syntax, as you know, goes like this: “Would you like to include the optional extras?” or “Are you ready to try this out?” You put a question at the front – ‘would you like to…’ or ‘are you ready to…’ and follow it with the fact or action that you are inquiring about.

So when you use the question syntax with a command tonality, that’s a powerful way of influencing people. Consciously, the word order tells them that they are hearing a question, but their unconscious mind also picks up on the command. “Would you like to include the optional extras or “Are you ready to try this out.”

Just a caveat about the ‘high rising terminal’, as the rising intonation is called. This is increasingly used by young people in the UK and US, and particularly in Australia, for statements and even commands as well as questions. If you find yourself using it a lot, you need to be aware that it also makes you sound uncertain and lacking authority in certain situations – for example, in presentations, and when you actually do want someone to do something.

I’d like you to notice what tonalities other people – and yourself – habitually use. You could also experiment with using subtle command tonalities with embedded suggestions and notice what effect it has on people.

Previously in this series: Understanding And Using The Milton Model 1: The Hierarchy Of Ideas (Chunking)
Understanding And Using The Milton Model 2: What It Is And Why You Need To Know About It
Understanding And Using The Milton Model 3: Distortions
Understanding And Using The Milton Model 4: Generalisations
Understanding And Using The Milton Model 5: Deletions
Understanding And Using The Milton Model 6: Pacing
Understanding And Using The Milton Model 7: Ambiguity

Next in this series: Understanding And Using The Milton Model 9: Extended Quotes

Practical NLP Box SetThere is lots more about NLP language patterns and many other useful aspects of NLP in the Practical NLP Complete Box Set Volumes 1-8.

If you just want to focus specifically on NLP language patterns, you could just buy Practical NLP 2: Language.

(Note: this link should take you through to Amazon’s US, UK or Canada site if you live in one of those countries. If you normally use a different Kindle store, just click on the link and change the .com (or whatever) part of the link to the one for your normal store (e.g. .de, .fr)

© 2017 – 2023, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. Tiisetso Mphenyeke

    Please notify me of any NLP Practical Language.

    1. Andy Smith

      Hi Tiisetso – I’m not sure I understand your request. Do you mean examples of how NLP language patterns can be used in practice?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.