Invitations: Functions and Classifications

Functions of Invitation
Through the act of inviting, the speaker commits to a proposed future action while also directing the hearer to participate in that course of action. Thus, an invitation can be viewed as both a commissive and a directive speech act. Typically the inviter's action (for example, an invitation to a dinner) is considered beneficial to the invitee. A successful invitation relies on the hearer's acceptance of the offer as well as the speaker's fulfillment of the commitment that was made, which may involve some level of face work on the part of both the inviter and the invitee.

When an invitation is clear and unambiguous, it tends to contain concrete information such as an indication of time and location as well as a mention of the proposed activity. In addition, it is often followed by a request for a response (e.g., Do you want to go to lunch with us tomorrow?*). Such an invitation is likely to be genuine.

An ambiguous invitation often functions as an ostensible invitation (or ritual invitation) that appears to be sincere but in reality is not. Since the aim of an ostensible invitation is phatic, both the inviter and the invitee recognize the pretense even though the invitation seems fairly sincere on the surface. However, ostensible invitations can be issued when the interlocutors are aware that the invitee is unable to accept the invitation or after the invitation is solicited by the hearer. The inviter is likely to avoid specific arrangements for the event or fail to insist on the invitation.  

Ostensible speech acts are not limited to invitations. They also include ostensible apologies, offers, questions, assertions, compliments, congratulations, and so on. They differ in their characteristic purposes, but share the five properties distinctive to ostensible illocutionary acts: pretense, mutual recognition, collusion, ambivalence, and off-record purpose (see "Invitations in English" page for more information).

Above passages from Eslami, 2005; Isaacs & Clark, 1990; and Wolfson, 1989.


Classifications of Invitation

Two categories for invitations:

  1. Genuine
  2. The speaker wishes the hearer to participate in the invited event.

  3. Ostensible
  4. Also called an ambiguous or insincere invitation. The speaker issues an invitation but doesn't necessarily wish the hearer to attend the event. The five properties of ostensible invitations include:

    • The inviter pretends to make a genuine invitation.
    • The inviter and the invitee both understand the inviter's pretense.
    • The hearer demonstrates collusion by responding appropriately to the inviter's pretense.
    • The inviter shows ambivalence if and when the invitation confirmation is requested.
    • The inviter's main purpose for an ostensible invitation is implied but kept off-record.


Invitation Sequences

As in the examples provided in the American English and Persian invitation pages, whether ostensible or genuine, it is expected for the sequence of invitation to be extended several times in order to attend to both the inviter and the invitee's face. There is cultural variation to expected sequences depending on the language.

Above passages from Eslami, 2005.

See Invitation Sequences in American English



Eslami, Z. R. (2005). Invitations in Persian and English: Ostensible or genuine? Intercultural Pragmatics, 2(4), 453-480.

Isaacs, E. A., & Clark, H. H. (1990). Ostensible invitations. Language in Society, 19(4), 493-509.

Wolfson, N. 1989. Perspectives: Sociolinguistics and TESOL. New York: Newbury House Publishers.


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