Guidance on NEBOSH Command Words / Action Verbs

Last updated on September 6th, 2022 at 06:25 pm

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NEBOSH Command Words / Action Verbs Guide

NEBOSH Certificate Command Words

Many students studying NEBOSH Certificate qualifications get confused with the NEBOSH “Command Words” in Certificate exam questions.

Frequently, students ask questions such as:

“What is a command word?”

“What do they mean?”

“How much detail do I need in my answer to get good marks for these command words?”

“Have I written enough to answer the question correctly?

NEBOSH has produced a comprehensive guidance document explaining
what NEBOSH Command Words are and how NEBOSH Exam Questions should be answered for each type of Command Word. This guidance can be found on the official website of NEBOSH or you can also download NEBOSH Command Words PDF using the download link given below.

P.S. The guidance is available in 6 languages in addition to English.

Download Guidance on NEBOSH Command Words PDF

What is a Command Word?

Command Words (or action verbs) are used in the learning outcomes of the Certificate syllabus to indicate how much and how deep a student’s knowledge and understanding should be of that particular topic or area.

The same command words used in the learning outcomes can then be used in exam questions to test the student on that particular topic or area.

What do they mean and have I written enough in my answer for that Command Word?

Generally speaking, command words such as “Explain” and “Describe” require more detail than “Identify” or “Outline”.

The information below is based upon the NEBOSH guidance referred to and may prove useful in explaining what each command word means and the level of detail that may be required in your answer to the exam question. Download the NEBOSH Command Words table.

A list of all NEBOSH Command Words and Example Questions and Answers are given below.

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List of NEBOSH Command Words:

  1. Identify
  2. Give
  3. Outline
  4. Describe
  5. Explain

1. Identify

What does Identify mean?

Write down the things, issues, and items. Normally a word or a short sentence will be enough, providing it is clear.

For example:

Question: Identify FOUR hazards associated with excavations.  (4)


  1. The collapse of the sides
  2. Water Ingress
  3. Falling Material
  4. Undergrounds Services
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2. Give

What does Give mean?

Write down an example of, or give the meaning of something. Normally a word or a short sentence will be sufficient, provided the reference is clear.

For example:

Question: Identify FOUR types of safety signs AND Give an example in EACH case.  (4)


  1. Prohibition signs – e.g. No smoking
  2. Warning signs – e.g. Caution hot surface
  3. Mandatory signs – e.g. Wear hearing protection
  4. Emergency or safe condition signs – e.g. first-aid box
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3. Outline

What does Outline mean?

Write down the important, key points or issues. A long description is not required. What is needed is a short summary of the key / important points of what is asked for in the question.

For example:

Question: Outline FOUR hazards associated with excavations?  (4)


  1. The collapse of the sides – Unsupported trench or incorrect angle of the sides.
  2. Water ingress – Through heavy rain or the burst water main.
  3. Falling materials – Spoil dug from excavation or materials and tools stored at ground level could fall in.
  4. Underground services – Contact or rupturing of electricity, gas or water utilities.
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4. Describe

What does Describe mean?

Write down detailed information about the main features of something. It should be factual and without trying to explain anything.

When describing something, another person should be able to see in their mind what you are talking about.

For example:

Question: Describe the mechanical hazards associated with a Bench Grinder


  • An entanglement hazard would be associated with the rotating spindle that the abrasive wheel is mounted on. Drawing in and trapping is associated with the gap between the tool rest and the rotating abrasive wheel.
  • Friction or abrasion hazards would be associated with the surface of the rotating abrasive wheel and stabbing or puncture hazards could be created by flying fragments or pieces of ejected broken wheel.
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5. Explain

What does Explain mean?

Write down your understanding of an item or an issue. This is to check that you know or understand something.

This word often appears in questions as “Explain how…” or “Explain why….”

For example:

Question: Explain how sensitive protective equipment (trip device) can reduce the risk of contact with moving parts of machinery.


Sensitive protective equipment is designed to identify the presence of a person or body part within the danger zone of machinery. Examples of such devices include pressure mats and light beams which are connected to the machine controls and would stop the machine rapidly should a person or body part be detected.


Make sure that you read the exam question carefully, identify the command words and understand what is the context /meaning of the question. You should also practice questions with different command words in your own study time to give you a broad experience in answering questions with different command words.


NEBOSH Command Words are used to indicate how much understanding and knowledge you should have for a particular topic within the Certificate syllabus. You can, therefore, use them when preparing for NEBOSH Exams to check if you have enough knowledge and understanding of that topic.

Don’t let command words confuse you and worry whether you are writing enough in your answer to satisfy the command word in the question. Don’t lose sight of what the question is asking you.

Use the guide above to understand what is required by each command word. Let the command words guide you in your answer to enable you to demonstrate in your exams the level of knowledge and understanding you have.

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