At times, we use words and phrases which we think smooth the edges of our communication. These are called ‘hedge words’. How can we reduce them to sound confident with our words? 

What is hedging?

Hedging is when you use a word or phrase to soften your statements and make them less direct. They are also used to communicate uncertainty. Hedging is often used as a strategy to soften a statement, whether that’s through evasiveness or politeness. 

According to George Lakoff, author of Hedges: A study in meaning criteria and the logic of fuzzy concepts, there are a few types of hedging strategies:

  • Indetermination. Augments uncertainty in a statement
  • Depersonalisation. Distances the writer. Makes it less clear who is speaking - or responsible
  • Subjectivisation. Using verbs to make claims subjective. For example, ‘I think’, or ‘I suppose’ 
  • Limitation. A form of categorising to add clarity 

When is hedging useful? 

Hedging can be useful in some situations. For example, in an academic essay, it can be used to suggest conclusions without proclaiming them as unambiguous truths. In a legal context, journalists can use hedging to report on unproven statements. 

These are deliberate contexts where they are used consciously. The danger of hedge words is using them unconsciously, which lacks confidence. 

When is hedging not useful?

When overused, hedging reduces trustworthiness. Overuse also makes you sound uncertain. When used judiciously, you appear reasonable and cautious. It’s all about balance. 

Hedging should be avoided in content and copywriting. It can be construed as evasive, so if you’re trying to sell something with the power of your words, your words should be strong. If you don’t have conviction, your reader won’t be convinced either. By reducing hedging, you’ll be able to stand by your ideas. 

Another interesting arena for hedge words is workplace communication. Some have pointed out that the push to be more direct in email communication points to gender expectations in a male-dominated corporate space. Equally, using too many hedge phrases and qualifiers can undermine your message. 

A good solution, then, is to simply be more aware of your tone in your emails. As mentioned earlier, hedge words work brilliantly when they are used deliberately. It’s all about having more control over how you communicate. 

Things can get lost in translation over email, and at times, using hedging can make your tone more friendly. 

What are some examples of hedging?

Here are some examples of hedge words and phrases:

  • Basically
  • My understanding is 
  • In general 
  • Just
  • Necessarily
  • Possibly 
  • Almost 

You can use the Readable hedge word count to keep an eye on how many you are using. You can find this in the ‘issues’ tab on your readability results:

Because the alternative to hedging is simply to eliminate the hedge words, cutting them will also give your readability a boost. Less words in your sentences will add clarity to your writing and increase your readability score.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a freelance writer and worked at Readable for a number of years. Laura is well-versed in optimising content for readability and Readable's suite of tools. She aims to write guides that help you make the most out of Readable.