Qualifying words limit or intensify another word's meaning. Common examples include very, quite, somewhat, most, least, probably, likely, possibly, pretty, a little, perhaps, maybe.
Qualifying phrases and clauses act in a similar manner. They hedge ideas, softening the thought that follows.
Though qualifiers may seem like throw-away words, they can have a significant impact on the tone and substance of your message. By analyzing good, bad, and ugly uses of qualifiers, you can wield them more effectively in your writing.
- If at all possible
- For what it's worth
- In my humble opinion
- I just want to say that
- I think that
- I'm of the belief that
Well placed qualifiers allow you to soften or intensify an idea, express subjectivity, or show necessary uncertainty or doubt.
Gentle and suggestive: Maybe we need to change our business model.
Blunt and assertive: We need to change our business model.
You might start with a qualifying statement to take ownership of an idea.
I believe that we need to change our business model.
(The qualifier softens the delivery and highlights the writer’s subjectivity.)
However, as you will soon discover, qualifying too many of your statements in this manner can lead to unintended consequences.
Overusing qualifiers creates wordiness and a waffling tone. When you hedge every idea with a qualifier, your readers will notice your lack of conviction, making your ideas less convincing.
Forgive me for bothering you, but the head of the Graphics Design Department at Northwestern College has asked if we might possibly be interested in perhaps offering internship opportunities to strong candidates from the university’s program.
I am of the opinion that starting an internship program could potentially bring some benefits.
You can establish a more confident writing voice by striking the unnecessary qualifiers.
The head of the Graphics Design Department at Northwestern College has asked if we are interested in offering internship opportunities to strong candidates from the university’s program.
Starting an internship program will benefit the company in three key ways.
Overusing qualifiers can also lead to vague, uninteresting writing. Seek fresh, specific alternatives to overused qualifiers, especially words like very, pretty, little, sort of, and some.
I was pretty surprised to hear some of the board sort of approved some very big changes.
I was surprised to hear the board approved three big changes.