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.