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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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6 Hedging

Hedging is a further key part of academic style. It means using ‘cautious’ language. This is because academics have to be cautious when making statements as there may not always be enough evidence to be certain about something that their research findings seem to indicate.

Consider the following three sentences:

  • Languages are always associated with cultural, social and political issues, which are in tension with one another.
  • It is often the case that languages are associated with cultural, social and political issues, some of which are in tension with one another.
  • Sanders (2013, p. 34) found that the English language is often associated with social and political issues, which may be in tension with one another.

The first sentence indicates that an association always exists and suggests that all issues are contrasting. This is a very general statement that could be proven wrong as there may not be enough evidence to prove that this is always the case.

The second sentence is more cautious and uses ‘hedging’ expressions such as ‘often’ and ‘some’ to acknowledge that some languages may not be associated with these issues and that, in any case, these are not always in tension with one another.

The third sentence is less general as it focuses more specifically on the English language. It also supports the statement with reference to research. It uses the words ‘often’ and ‘some’ to indicate that there is no absolute certainty.

The most common words used to hedge are shown in Table 8.

Table 8 Common hedging words
VerbsAdverbsAdjectivesPhrases

may

could

can

might

seem to

appear to

tend to

possibly

probably

generally

in general

mainly

largely

usually

perhaps

often

sometimes

probable

possible

likely

unlikely

usual

 

to a great extent

it would appear

it is often the case

Activity 11

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Part 1

Read the following three sets of sentences. For each set identify the sentence that uses hedging and the specific words used to hedge.

  1.  

    • a. This debate will probably continue for many decades to come.
    • b. This debate will certainly continue for many decades to come.
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Answer

  •  

    • a. Hedging is achieved by using ‘probably’
  1.  

    • a. Obviously people around the world are ambivalent about the English language.
    • b. People around the world may be ambivalent about the English language.
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Answer

  •  

    • b. Hedging is achieved by using ‘may’
  1.  

    • a. With rapid advances in communication technology, it is likely that we will become literate in new ways.
    • b. With rapid advances in communication technology, we will all become literate in new ways.
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Answer

  •  

    • a. Hedging is achieved by using ‘likely’.

Part 2

Make the following sentences sound less certain and more cautious by introducing suitable hedging words or phrases.

  1. Migrants use the local language when interacting with their children at home.
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  1. Today’s students cannot read critically.
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  1. In the past, students took responsibility for their mistakes.
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  1. Past students thought of education as a privilege; current students view it as an entitlement.
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Answer

There are many ways to edit these phrases. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Migrants are likely to use the local language when interacting with their children at home.
  2. It seems that today’s students cannot read critically.
  3. In the past, students appear to have taken responsibility for their mistakes.
  4. Past students generally thought of education as a privilege; current students sometimes view it as an entitlement.