Using Vague Expressions - Being Imprecise

Vague Gesture
I'm Not Sure!. Jamie Grill / Tetra images / Getty Images

There are a number of ways to give imprecise information in English. Here are some of the most common:

  • There are about 600 people working in this company.
  • There are approximately 600 people working in this company.
  • There are a large number of students interested in taking his course.
  • It's almost impossible to get tickets for the concert.
  • Management predicts up to 50% growth for the coming year.
  • It's kind of a bottle opener which can also be used to peel vegetables.
  • It's the type of place you can go to relax for a week or so.
  • They're the sort of people that like going bowling on Saturday evenings.
  • It's difficult to say, but I'd guess that it's used for cleaning house.
  • I'm not really sure, but I think they enjoy hiking in the mountains.

Construction

Formula

Form

There are about 600 people working in this company.

I have almost 200 friends in New York.

Use 'about' + a numbered expression.

Use 'almost' + a numbered expression

There are approximately 600 people working in this company.

Use 'approximately' + a numbered expression.

There are a large number of students interested in taking his course.

Use 'a large number of' + a noun.

Management predicts up to 50% growth for the coming year.

Use 'up to' + a noun.

It's kind of a bottle opener which can also be used to peel vegetables.

Use 'kind of' + a noun.

It's the type of place you can go to relax for a week or so.

Use 'type of' + a noun. Use 'or so' at the end of a sentence to express the meaning 'approximately'.

They're the sort of people that like going bowling on Saturday evenings.

Use 'sort of' + a noun.
It's difficult to say, but I'd guess that it's used for cleaning house.Use the phrase + 'It's difficult to say, but I'd guess' an independent clause.

 

Being Imprecise Dialogue

Mark: Hi, Anna. Can I ask you a few questions for a survey I'm doing in class?
Anna: Sure, what would you like to know?

Mark: Thanks, to begin with how many students are at your university?
Anna: Well, I can't be exact. I'd say there are about 5,000 students.

Mark: That's close enough for me.

What about classes? How large is the average class?
Anna: That's really hard to say. Some courses have a large number of students, others not so many.

Mark: Could you give me an estimate?
Anna: I'd there are approximately 60 students in most classes.

Mark: Great. How would you describe your university?
Anna: Once again, there's no clear cut answer. It's the kind of place students choose if they want to study non-traditional subjects. 

Mark: So, you'd say students are not what you'd find at other schools.
Anna: It has the sort of students that aren't exactly sure what they want to do in the future. 

Mark: Why did you choose to attend your university?
Anna: It's difficult to say, but I'd guess it was because I wanted to stay close to home. 

Mark: Thanks for asking my questions!
Anna: My pleasure. I'm sorry I couldn't give you more exact answers. 

More English Functions

Disagreeing
Contrasting Ideas
Making Complaints
Asking for Information
Giving Advice
Guessing
Saying 'No' Nicely
Showing Preferences
Making Suggestions
Offering Help
Giving Warning
Demanding Explanations