Today, I want to tell you about hedging language and why it is important in IELTS and other forms of academic writing. In this lesson, I’ll show you what hedging language is, why you need it, and how to use it effectively.
What is hedging language?
The term hedging language refers to a range of words and phrases that can be used to make our language more accurate. These include verbs, modals, and adverbs.
Look at these two sentences and ask yourself, “Which one is more accurate?”
- Teenagers fight with their parents.
- Many teenagers fight with their parents.
I hope that you said “The second one is more accurate” because that’s a far better sentence.
If you say “Teenagers fight with their parents,” then you are effectively claiming that 100% of teenagers do this, but of course it’s not true. Not all teenagers are such monsters!
In the second sentence, I used “many” to modify the meaning and make the statement clear and precise. We could have fixed this in other ways:
- Teenagers often fight with their parents.
- It is common for teenagers to fight with their parents.
- It sometimes seems as though all teenagers fight with their parents.
As you can see, each of these presents a meaning that is more truthful than the first sentence. These sentences use various forms of hedging language in order to convey an accurate and fair meaning.
Why do we need hedging language?
As you saw in the previous examples, hedging language makes our sentences more accurate and truthful. We can use it to avoid generalisations, inaccuracies, and stereotypes. Each of these could prove very problematic in academic writing.
Let’s say you want to talk about young people and social media. You might be tempted to say something like this:
- Young people love watching short videos on TikTok.
Is this true? It certainly seems to be true! However, not all young people feel this way and so it is not very accurate.
In casual conversation with a friend, you might get away with talking like this, but in academic writing you should not make such generalisations. You need to be more careful than that. Instead, you ought to say something like this:
- A lot of young people love watching short videos on TikTok.
As the chart above shows, we could also use “majority” here:
- The majority of young people love watching short videos on TikTok.
Again, there are other ways to modify it and make it accurate but the point is to convey a meaning that is truthful and does not accidentally send the wrong message – i.e. that 100% of young people feel the same way.
In IELTS, this is particularly important. In the band descriptors for task 2, it clearly says that you will not score above band 7 for Task Response if your essay includes over-generalisation. That means that you have said something that is true because your language is not specific enough.
Thus, if you want to do well in IELTS, you will likely need to use hedging language to avoid this big mistake.
How to use hedging language
As we have seen already, there are different types of hedging language. We can use verbs, adjectives, adverbs, modals, and so on to provide a more specific meaning.
There are two things to remember:
- You need to present an accurate meaning.
- You need to write grammatically.
Let’s take another example of a sentence lacking in hedging language and then see how we could fix it:
- Old people are not good with technology.
Again, this is something that is unfair because it is not always true. Certainly, a lot of old people are bad with technology but we should not engage in lazy stereotyping. Thus, we can modify the sentence using hedging language:
- Many old people are not good with technology.
- A lot of old people are not good with technology.
- Old people often struggle with technology.
- It is sometimes said that old people are not good with technology.
- Old people sometimes struggle with technology.
- Some people think that old people are not good with technology.
- It could be argued that most old people are not good with technology.
I could go on, but you see the point. Each of these sentences now contains a word or phrase that modifies the original meaning to make it more accurate. Just make sure that you use these grammatically so that you get a good score for Grammatical Range and Accuracy.
Hedging language examples
There are various types of words that can be used as hedging language, as you can see below.
- sometimes, often, probably
- many, a lot of, some, most
- could, might, may, can
- appear, seem, suggest, argue
When you employ these carefully in a sentence, they can make your meaning far more precise, so use them whenever necessary to avoid generalisations and inaccuracies.