We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip main navigation

Hedging language

Read about "hedging" language: polite language we use when we are discussing or debating an idea.
© British Council
In the video on the previous step, people were giving their opinion on a controversial question. You may have noticed that the people used a lot of tentative language in their answers – this is very common in spoken English and is called hedging language.
Let’s look at some examples:
No, I think it should be, maybe, limited.
There are two examples of hedging language in the example above. Can you spot them?
First of all, the speaker makes clear that this is opinion, rather than fact by using the phrase I think. We can achieve the same effect by starting a sentence with any of the following:
I feel
It seems to me
I believe that
It might be that
The word maybe makes the sentence even more tentative.
The word maybe occurs frequently in the young people’s responses to the questions on the previous step, sometimes in places you wouldn’t expect to find it, for example:
There has to be hard evidence that they are maybe committing or threatening to commit certain terrorist crimes.
It seems strange to have the word maybe alongside a phrase like hard evidence, but in spoken English, sentences like this are not uncommon!
Speakers often state their opinion, but then go on to “hedge” – to make some concessions to the other side of the argument. Have a look at this example:
But when it goes to corporal punishment, that …there should be a law about that but then again, it’s up to the parents.
The speaker begins by saying that there should be a law about corporal punishment (the right of the parent to discipline the child with physical punishment), but then adds that it should be the parent’s choice. Then again is an informal way of saying on the other hand. Here’s another example of then again:
I don’t think it’s right, but then again, they can’t stop you, exactly.
Finally, some of the shorter answers are also very tentative. Look at this answer to the question about whether the state should be able to make laws about how we discipline our children.
To an extent, I think.
This speaker thinks the state should – but will not commit himself to the idea totally. To an extent means that you think something is partly, but not completely, true.
So, why do we use hedging language in English? Well, we mainly use hedging language to sound polite when we are expressing our ideas about things.
Can you think of any other examples of hedging language?
© British Council
This article is from the free online

Exploring English: Magna Carta

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education