Glossary: hedge


An expression that tempers an absolute statement by qualifying it in various ways. For example, maybe, perhaps, and generally can operate as hedges, as can expressions like it would seem that or as far as I can tell. Hedges can express a speaker's hesitation, doubt, or uncertainty about what is being said, and can also protect a speaker from repercussions of saying something that is incorrect.


When we talk (or write), we often make statements of fact about the world: It's hot today; I'm hungry; Tomorrow is my birthday. However, this is not always the case.

We often talk about what is possible or necessary: for example, what might happen or what somebody must do. This kind of meaning is called modality.

Spoken language

Spoken language and written language are often referred to as two different modes. Spoken language has a structure that is often different from that of written language. Because we use spoken language in different situations from written language, we can often rely on context, gesture and shared understanding, so many of the grammatical structures and devices that we tend to use in written language aren’t necessary.

One mode is not ‘better’ than another mode, and we should be careful not to describe spoken language as ‘incorrect’ or ‘wrong’.


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