Hedging devices in academic writing

In the world of banking it is possible to invest money in a so-called hedge fund. This kind of investment allows you to invest your money without being 100% certain about making a profit, even though you are quietly confident that you will.

In the world of language we can do something similar. We can use hedging devices in writing to show that we are ‘confidently uncertain’ about our claims.

Let’s take a bold claim and look at how we might use hedging devices to ‘soften’ it to show that we are uncertain but confident. Compare the following texts. Continue reading

Jumbled hedges

Academic writers make frequent use of ‘hedges’ – phrases that change the strength of their claims so as to make them more acceptable to other academics. A claim can be made stronger or weaker by adding adjectives and adverbs, by changing verbs, or by adding lengthy ‘hedging’ phrases.

The activity below includes 10 sentences that feature hedging. Try to reconstruct them and see if you can identify which words and phrases constitute ‘hedging’!

(Answer key below!) Continue reading

Articles and sentient animals

New Zealand now recognises all animals as sentient beings!

Discuss with a friend.. If animals are sentient beings (they can think and feel pretty much like humans can), how does this affect our attitude to:

  • animals as food
  • scientific experimentation involving animals (vivisection)
  • animals in sport and entertainment

After your discussion, read the following text and select articles as appropriate. Continue reading

Cementing ideas with ‘it’ and ‘this’

A good way to avoid repetition in writing, and at the same time to cement (= stick) sentences together so that ideas flow smoothly, is to use what’s called referencing and substitution (many examples of referencing and substitution in previous posts).

In this post we focus again on using it and this as substitutes for themes and rhemes. If you’re not sure what is meant by theme and rheme, please read this before trying the activity below. Continue reading

Not everything is ‘convenient’

Physical shops are more convenient than online stores. Firstly, in physical shops customers are able to touch goods and try on clothes. Secondly, shopping in physical shops can be a social activity.

There is a category of physical store aptly named ‘convenience stores‘. Many countries have 7 Elevens. In Indonesia we have Indomaret, Alfamart and Circle K.

Indonesian flag Indonesians might call a shop that sells everything at a low price ‘convenient‘. However, the prices in convenience stores like Circle K can be quite a lot higher than average. These shops inflate prices precisely so that they can offer ‘conveniences‘:

  • they are numerous, especially in cities
  • they have ample parking if they are situated on a road
  • they can even be found inside large shopping centres
  • they stock items that most people need on a daily basis
  • they provide fast and efficient service

These are all features that native English speakers would consider ‘convenient‘. In English something is ‘convenient‘ when it saves you time and effort. Being able to touch goods is not a matter of ‘convenience‘. It may be practical, but it is not what most people would call ‘convenient‘, and neither is meeting your friends when you go to physical stores.

For your convenience, here are some definitions of ‘convenience’, as well as some pictures of convenient things.

When ‘enough’ is too much

Owners of LCGC cars spend additional money on car tax which is expensive enough for middle income families.

‘Enough’, ‘not enough’, and ‘too’ are problematic for Indonesians since their equivalents in Bahasa Indonesia (cukup, tidak cukup, terlalu) are not quite equivalent!

In English these words are used to evaluate situations that have either positive or negative outcomes.

Let’s look first at a negative outcome:

If you are female and wish to work as a flight attendant with Garuda, then you are required to be at least 163cm tall. If you are less than 163cm tall, then you are not enough for the job. What a pity – you are too short!

And now a positive outcome:

You are female, 164cm tall. You are tall enough to be a flight attendant with Garuda. You attend interview and they offer you the job, hoorah!

Now let’s review the positives:

  • ‘enough’ – positive
  • ‘not enough’ – negative
  • ‘too’ – negative


If I say that “car tax is expensive enough for middle income families” then I’m making a positive evaluation about a situation that is clearly negative!

The problem is that in Indonesian, ‘enough’ can behave rather like ‘very’ to intensify an adjective. In our example, ‘very’ would create a more negative evaluation of the situation, and I’m sure this is what the writer is trying to achieve:

🙂 Owners of LCGC cars spend additional money on car tax which is very expensive for middle income families.

When an Indonesian woman remarks that you are ‘handsome enough’ (cukup ganteng), they believe they are paying you a compliment. If you speak Bahasa Indonesia, then you will take this as a compliment. However, a man who does not speak Indonesian will appear confused, because ‘handsome enough’ literally means that he meets some minimum requirement for handsomeness. It’s not a negative evaluation, but it’s not particularly flattering either!

Indonesian readers

Indonesians sometimes use ‘too’ (terlalu) for positive evaluation. If you can think of a sentence using ‘terlalu’, please add it in a comment below.


Many thanks to Desy and Ratih for agreeing to be photographed and for filling me in on the ‘rules’!

Trends can make you ill

Australians who disagreed or remained neutral had an upward trend during the period.

I mentioned in a previous post that ‘trend’ is a dangerous word and perhaps best avoided because:

  1. it is usually redundant
  2. it carries with it unusual collocation that does not translate easily from other languages

The wrong collocation can cause meaning to change. In the example above, ‘upward trend‘ sounds like some kind of illness, which is something that we ‘have’, for example “I had a cold last week.” We might imagine the following conversation:

You: Sorry I missed our appointment yesterday. I had an upward trend.
Your friend: Sorry to hear that. I hope you’re feeling better!

trend

Once again, it’s possible, and usually preferable to describe a trend without using the word ‘trend‘. Avoid it!

A many-headed doctor?!

I am a doctor. My first sister is a doctor. My second sister is a doctor. And my third sister is a doctor. My father wanted us to become a doctor.

For a second, this is what your reader imagines:

doctor

You need:

  • I am a doctor. My first sister is a doctor. My second sister is a doctor. And my third sister is a doctor. My father wanted us to become doctors.

doctors female

In(the) first place

In the first place is over-grazing, which caused 35% of land degradation.

Not a terrible error – we know what you mean! But still, it’s important to understand the distinction between ‘in first place’ and ‘in the first place’.

In IELTS Task 1 writing we often find ourselves ranking items as follows:

  • In first place is over-grazing, which caused 35% of land degradation. Meanwhile in second place, 20% of land degradation was caused by deforestation.

But what if you’re listing rather than ranking? Let’s say, for example, that you’re listing supports for an argument. In this case you need ‘in the first place’, ‘in the second place’, etc.:

  • Mr Jones cannot be the one who stole your car. In the first place he was in a different city when the car was stolen, and secondly he is blind!

In this case ‘in the first place‘ means ‘as the first consideration‘. It’s often used to introduce reasons that should be obvious but may need to be emphasised, as in the above example. Notice that it is unusual to continue ‘in the second place‘, ‘in the third place‘, etc. Better to switch to ‘secondly‘, ‘thirdly‘, and so on.

To sum up..

  • In first place..’ is useful in Task 1 writing (for ranking)
  • In the first place..’ is useful in Task 2 writing (for emphasising reasons)

TIP! If you’re doing this in IELTS Speaking, it can sometimes help you to structure an argument if you count off items using your fingers, perhaps under the table!

firstsecondthird


PS. See also my earlier post dealing with ‘in second place’ instead of ‘second winner’ (which does NOT mean ‘in second place’!).