NLP Language Patterns

Let’s set some frames for understanding how to use language much more persuasively. Simple word choices are very powerful.  The most charismatic and persuasive public figures you know use language in interesting ways, with different tonalities, and pauses used dramatically.  Their word choices tend to conjure images and inspire people with emotional content. 

The long-time radio celebrity, Paul Harvey, made a career of using dramatic pauses in his radio programs recounting of stories with “…and that’s….the rest of the story.”  Think of people you have been inspired by. 

Dr. Martin Luther King painted a picture of a future where black and white children were “judged by the quality of their character, and not by their skin color.”  U.S. President, John F Kennedy, called a nation to action with the words, “Ask not, what your country can do for you; but ask what you can do for your country.”

Language Creates Behavior

At the most basic level, the idea is that ‘language creates behavior.’  Looking at work in Psychology and Linguistics, Noam Chomsky outlined how language is understood based on word meaning and positioning in a sentence, in other words,  ‘order’ or ‘syntax’ is important to understanding.  Chomsky posited that to understand language we derive a ‘surface structure’ and also the “deep structure’ of language. 

The sentence, “The dog bit Johnny.” is understood at some level, but the sentence “Johnny bit the dog.” reflects the same weight.  We don’t say “to store the am going I”, although on the surface, we should be able to get the same meaning as “I am going to the store.” 

Somehow people ‘intuit’ meaning of any sentence through a series of ‘transformations’ of meaning as they hear the sentence presented to them. We intuit language. 

From this early work, Chomsky coined the term, Generative Linguistics, to capture the power of how language inspires or inhibits us, moves us to tears or action, holds us back or lulls us into complacency.  How we use language literally programs our behavior.  Consider the sentence, “John is eager to please.”  Note the direction of action.  Now substitute ‘easy’ for ‘eager’ and note the change in direction of the action and the meaning.

Eliminate Negatives

You probably know someone who uses a lot of negative language.  They may complain a lot or say things like, “He’s a pain in the neck.”  If you notice this person using the same phrases all the time, look to see how they are living their lives.  Are they happy? 

People who are focused on negatives all the time, seem not to be very happy.  More troubling, is that if a person continually refer to a “pain in the neck,” they will probably manifest some physical issue around the neck.  This is called ‘organ language’ in hypnosis. 

The same phenomena would hold for sentences like, “makes me sick” and “kick in the gut” or “gives me a headache.”  NLP Practitioners suggest eliminating this type of language.  The belief is that ‘we tend to create the things we focus on.’ 

You have probably met someone who creates negative linguistic constructions as in, “What if…?” statements.  Do you know someone who is constantly talking about what could go wrong.  Are these people generating negative events in their lives?

Anthropologists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Worff studied indigenous cultures in Papua New Guinea and Africa, to prove out their hypothesis, one way or another, that language does, indeed, create behavior. 

In their research, some indigenous groups had limited number of names for colors and some only had lighter and darker.  The researchers reasoned that if there was agreement in identifying colors regardless of labels that language would not be what caused behavior.  There was consistent agreement on focal colors, but not for shades.  Therefore the conclusion was that language does program our behavior, at least to a point.


It is interesting that, William Archibald Spooner, a don at New College Oxford in the late 1800’s is reported to have had a speech impediment that caused him to mix up words in sentences.  He would famously say things like, “The queer old dean,” when he meant to be saying, “The dear old queen.” 

Spooner also is reported to have said, “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride,” and to a student, “You have hissed all my mystery lectures.”  Of course he meant, “It is customary to kiss the bride,” and You have missed all my history lectures.”  So for the patterns in this article, try playing with how language is used.  Practice having this language coming out of your mouth.  Hear yourself.  To get from point A to point B, one might say “as the fly crows” instead of “as the crow flies.”

But vs. And

Here’s a simple correction you can make in language.  Instead of using the word ‘but’, use ‘and.’  We tend to use ‘but’ in everyday language, but we use it unconsciously, and most often incorrectly.  It’s not what we are meaning to communicate. 

I might say to you that “I noticed your great shirt, and your pants match, but your shoes are red.”  Notice the impact of the word ‘but’.  It negates whatever you said before.  Most people are expecting something negative to come next.  I’m waiting for the other shoes to fall, so to speak. 

Now hear the same sentence, “I noticed your great shirt, and your pants match, and your shoes are red.”  You may notice that there’s no ‘sting’ to the sentence.  It is not threatening or demeaning.  The word but, negates everything you said before it, and word ‘and’ connects one thing in a sentence to another. 

It just feels better when you use more effectively and with more awareness of impact.  The practice is to stop yourself anytime you find yourself using the word ‘but’ for while and substitute, ‘and’ until you are using language the way you really mean to use it.

Another frame is to understand how negatives are heard in language.  If you tell a child, “Don’t spill the milk,” what invariably is going to happen?  It will go right over, won’t it?  

The child has to represent in his mind the milk spilling, before he can process ‘not’ in the sentence.  The child had to make a picture of the milk spilling, even to understand what you just said to him. 

Persuasive Language

This is a primary understanding of how persuasive language works with people.  When you understand you can suggest pictures, sounds, and feelings with your languag’ing to people and that they literally have to process the information in particular ways to understand what you have said, you are influencing people directly and you can do it powerfully to get more of what you want in life. 

Say what you want and what you mean.  “Move the milk away from the edge of the table.”

The use of the word ‘yet’ makes a nice language pattern that can easily cause others to change or alter their belief.  When you hear a limiting belief like, “I can’t learn this,” you can simply turn the sentence around and say, “Oh, so you haven’t learned this,…yet!”  Put yourself in the position of the other person and imagine you have said the limiting statement. What do you imagine the affect is on the limiting belief, at least in that moment?”

Linguistic Ambiguity

Another frame for using language patterns powerfully is that the unconscious mind has to interpret every meaning of a word before the conscious mind chooses a meaning that suits the context.  You may have read (red) that color is very stimulating.”

In selling situations, practice this sentence, “Buy (by) now, you must be wondering how to purchase my product.”  The other meaning of these words is installed into the unconscious mind of the person receiving the communication and this phenomenon can be used to influence behavior. 

Other examples include, ‘The old men and women and were going to the church.”  Is it only the men who are old?  This is ambiguous language.  This group of language patterns are called ‘linguistic ambiguities.’

Some are based on body language.  When I point to my throat where a ‘tie’ might be and I say, “As your unconscious ties together these concepts, watch (I turn my head down to look at my arm) how quickly you are learning.”


Presuppositions in language are what has to be accepted as true in order to understand a sentence. There are several types of linguistic presuppositions.  “When you have closed the door, we will begin,” presupposes that you will close the door, and that we have not begun yet.  “He danced with the woman in red,” presupposes there is a woman and that there was some opportunity to take an action and that it can be described as dance. 

“Some of the guests, left early,” presupposes there were people who were guests in some place and that they are no longer present.  “When you’ve practiced these language patterns in a number of life situations, you will have far more facility with being persuasive,” presupposes you will do more than just read this article and it suggests you will practice in more than one situation. 

An Upcoming Language Patterns Workshop

It is generally accepted in language that when I use rules-based language, like ‘should, shouldn’t, must, and can’t,’ that people tend to believe what they are being told.

When language patterns are taught in the upcoming workshop, Language Patterns of NLP, you will be exposed to a number of specific language pattern constructions that cannot help but compel you to use them persuasively in all kinds of life situations.  You just have to attend, now, don’t you? 

The purpose of this article is ‘whet your appetite‘, so to speak to the desire to learn language patterns at a much deeper level of experience in your life.  Contact Bill at 602 321-7192 to request dates and time so that you can make the decision now to register for this life-empowering, results-enhancing opportunity to learn. 


Article by Bill Thomason

For NLP Coaching sessions call 602 321-7192.

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