Vague Language

Vague /veɪɡ/ language is language that is not precise and therefore allows speakers not to commit themselves or not to sound too definite.

Vague language is very common in speaking, but it’s sometimes used in writing too. For example, etc. can be used even in academic writing. As for the other phrases from the list below, you should be careful with them. Don’t use them in academic writing because they are informal.

Examples of vague language:

(expressions for an indefinite number; phrases for referring to a group of things; expressions for giving an approximation; phrases used after a list; other vague expressions)

  • Loads / sacks / tons / bags of = a lot of: 1. He earns sacks of money, doesn’t he? 2. I see loads of people in the street. 3. We have tons of food left. 4. We have bags fo time.
  • A couple of / a few = an indefinite small number of things or people: 1. See you in a couple of days. 2. I have a few friends.
  • That sort of thing – used at the end of a list of similar things or details for showing that it is not complete: She raised and sold seals to aquariums and marine parks, that sort of thing.
  • Stuff – used to refer to things when it is obvious what you are talking about, or you don’t know the name, or the name isn’t important: 1. How much did you pay for this stuff? 2. What is that stuff you are holding? 3. I’m telling him we don’t want all that stupid stuff here.
  • …and stuff (like that) – used for referring to things that are similar or related to the subject that you are discussing: 1. You simply cannot do stuff like that. 2. The teacher wants us to do homework, read in our free time and stuff.
  • The whole thing / bit – everything that is involved in a particular activity or situation or in being a particular type of person: 1. I’m doing this whole thing for you. 2. She loves singing, but she hates the whole showbiz bit.
  • …or something (like that / of that sort) – used for referring to any of a group of things or possibilities without being specific: 1. He told me that she was famous or something. 2. He should’ve been a politician or something like that. 3. She says she saw a ghost or something of the sort.
  • Give or take – used for talking about numbers or quantities that are not exact: That’s 45 acres, give or take.
  • Somewhere in the region of / round about = approximately / about / more or less: 1. I make somewhere in the region of 100$ a day. 2. Round about 40% of the population never vote. 3. We have approximately 30 minutes left. 4. About 10 people showed up. 5. A sum of £80,000, more or less, will be needed to carry out repairs. (more or less also means “almost“: That’s more or less what I said.)
  • …or thereabouts / or so – used after a number, quantity, etc. to show that it is approximate: 1. How long will the trip take? – 2 weeks or thereabouts. 2. I spent 3 hours or so cleaning the apartment.
  • Roughly – used for showing that an amount, number, time, etc. is not exact: The lesson lasted roughly 60 minutes.
  • Roughly speakingused for giving information that is general and not exact: Roughly speaking, the seasons in England correspond with those in Japan.
  • Broadly/generally speaking – used for showing that what you are saying is usually true, but not in every instance: 1. Broadly speaking, Japanese people live long. 2. Generally speaking, children like to play.
  • Kind of – used when you are talking about someone or something in a general way without being very exact or definite: She is kind of strange.
  • To have/be something to do with sth. – used for saying that something is related to something else: 1. The problem has something to do with our new computer. 2. Perhaps it’s something to do with self-confidence.
  • Somehow (or other) / one way or another – used when the specific details about how something is or was done are not important or have been forgotten: 1. Somehow we’ll make it work. 2. Somehow or other, I’ll figure it out. 3. One way or another, we’ll make our dream come true.
  • …and so on/forth / and so on and so forth – used instead of mentioning more of a similar type of thing that has already been mentioned: 1. They have a right to their own culture, their own religion, their own language, and so on. 2. He asked me my full name, address and so forth. 3. We bought a tent, two chairs and so on and so forth.
  • Etc. – used after a list of things to mean “and others of the same type”, when you do not want to mention everything. (Etc. is from the Latin expression et cetera, which means “and the rest.”)

WHATEVER, WHENEVER, etc. 

When we add ever to what, when, who, which, how and where, we build a word that means no matter what, when, who, etc. Such words are also examples of vague language:

Whatever happens, never forget your family. (= no matter what happens)

Whenever I watch that movie, I cry.

Whoever gets the job will be responsible for the annual budget.

Whichever way you look at it, the system is bad.

However hard you try, you’ll never beat me.

I take my dog wherever I go.

In spoken English, whatever is also used for saying in an annoyed way that you will not try to change what someone thinks, says, or does, even though you do not agree with it: 1. Let’s do it like this. – Whatever. 2. We have to come at 5:30. – Whatever.

VAGUE LANGUAGE SUFFIXES

Suffixes can also make certain words sound indefinite:

  • -oddused after a number, especially a number that can be divided by 10, to show that the exact number is not known: 1. I’d say Robert’s about 40-odd – maybe 45. 2. He’s added 20-odd pounds. 
  • -something – this suffix is combined with numbers such as 20 and 30 to form adjectives which indicate an approximate amount, especially someone’s age: 1. Mary is twenty-something (= She is in her twenties). People of a similar age range are sometimes referred to as, for example, twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings: “This is for them 20-somethings, time really moves fast, you were just sixteen…” (from “Schoolin’ Life” by Beyonce)
  • -ishused to form adjectives to give the meaning to some degree: 1. He’s fortyish, I think. 2. His beard is reddish. 3. He’s oldish. 

Do you have question about vague language? Feel free to ask them in the comments below. Thank you for reading!

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