An ELT Notebook : Hedging


Hedging means making a statement without committing yourself 100% to a belief in its validity. It is often seen in academic genres, where writers will cite the work of other researchers - eg ;

Danesbury (2012) suggests that modern coursebooks are overloaded with language items, leading to learners becoming confused and assimilating less than they might otherwise do.

Here, the use of the verb  suggests and that of the modal might means that we have no idea if the writer is convinced that this is true - or even if the original source, Danesbury, is. This allows the writer, if the idea is later confuted by research, to point out that s/he never proposed it as more than a possibility.  Hedging can also be used to "soften" criticism of another researcher's work :

Quale (2012) seems unaware of the likely disadvantages of this approach.

Hedging is not, of course, restricted to academic genre and may also be used eg in face to face settings such as meetings where you want to present ideas as possibilities rather than definite recommendations, or refute other peoples recommendations without sounding arrogant or provoking hostility. Again, verbs like suggest and odal expressions of possibility - lexis like  may, could, might, likely, possibilities etc are often used in this way:

I'd like to suggest a possible solution that we might want to explore.

That option could lead to problems with costs though. 

I think that's likely to be the best option.