verbal hedge (communication)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Examples of hedging in Engish.


In communication, a word or phrase that makes a statement less forceful or assertive. Also called hedging. Contrast with boosting and intensifier.

Linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker notes critically that "[m]any writers cushion their prose with wads of fluff that imply that they are not willing to stand behind what they are saying, including almost, apparently, comparatively, fairly, in part, nearly, partially, predominantly, presumably, rather, relatively, seemingly, so to speak, somewhat, sort of, to a certain degree, to some extent, and the ubiquitous I would argue" (The Sense of Style, 2014).

However, as Evelyn Hatch notes below, hedges may also serve a positive communicative function. 

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Squirrels are still a traditional table fare for many. This popular small game provides excellent meat that is somewhat like the dark meat of chicken, but with its own distinct flavor."
    (Monte Burch, Solving Squirrel Problems. Lyons Press, 2003)
  • "I suppose you could say that when you listen to a warm phrase of Mozart coming at you, something akin to love is reaching you."
    (Leonard Bernstein, The Infinite Variety of Music. Simon & Schuster, 1966)
  • "Against the pallor of his skin, the flaxen thinness of his hair, the effect was almost transparent, as though one could see through to the blue veins behind the skin of his face. This blue was almost the same as the blue of his eyes: a milky blue that seemed to dissolve into a mixture of sky and clouds."
    (Paul Auster, City of Glass, 1985)
  • "With regard to science achievement, I would argue that to some extent academic initiative is based on students' academic performance."
    (Robert H. Tai, "Investigating Academic Initiative." Critical Ethnicity, ed. by Robert H. Tai and Mary L. Kenyatta. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999)
  • "I come in with my lesson plan and I think: Don't they know they should be enjoying this? But teaching is about being fulfilled with your best effort, I suppose. It's kind of like boot camp. If you survive it, you can survive anything."
    (Alex, quoted by Joyce E. King in Dysconscious Racism, Afrocentric Praxis, and Education for Human Freedom. Routledge, 2015) 
  • Hedge Words in the Media
    "Writers and reporters for various media are increasingly sensitive to possible legal repercussions regarding the things they report. As a result, many of them, seemingly to protect themselves and their organizations, tend to overuse hedge words--that is, words that allow the speaker or writer to hedge on the meaning of his or her statement. As such, readers and listeners are subjected to such statements as the following:
    The alleged burglary occurred last night.
    The diplomat died of an apparent heart attack.
    Such hedge words are unnecessary if the police report indeed shows that a burglary occurred and if the medical report lists a heart attack as the cause of the diplomat's death. In any case, the second sentence above would certainly make more sense if it were written another way. (Besides, what is an 'apparent heart attack'?)
    Apparently, the diplomat died of a heart attack.
    The diplomat died, apparently of a heart attack."
    (G. Loberger and K. Shoup, Webster's New World English Grammar Handbook. Wiley, 2009)
  • Hedge Words and Weasel Words
    "Hedges are not always the same as 'weasel words,' which temper the directness of a statement. (The two terms reflect a different point of view. 'Weasel words' is pejorative--we're trying to avoid responsibility for our claims. 'Hedges' qualify, soften, or make claims more polite.) The two examples that follow show how hedges can be used to let us 'weasel out' of responsibility for our statements.
    Perhaps Gould overstated his argument regarding an apparent weakness in Darwin's notes.
    The data appear to support the assumption of significant differences between the two groups of students.
    Hedges, however, also serve a ritual function. They may act like disfluencies in smoothing over a disagreement with a conversational partner.
    Maybe she just feels kinda blue.
    In this last example, it is a simple matter to understand the locutionary force of the utterance--that is, what the sentence says. However, the illocutionary force of the utterance--what is intended by the utterance--is not clear unless context is taken into account."
    (Evelyn Hatch, Discourse and Language Education. Cambridge University Press, 1992)


    Also Known As: hedge, hedging

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "verbal hedge (communication)." ThoughtCo, May. 9, 2015, Nordquist, Richard. (2015, May 9). verbal hedge (communication). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "verbal hedge (communication)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 25, 2018).