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When to Use Qualifying Language

when to use qualifying language - Carolyn Daughters

Qualifying language can make tough arguments easier to swallow. I’ll show you why you should consider qualifying some statements and when to use qualifying language.

As I’ve described elsewhere, arguments don’t live up to their potential when readers:

  • Need to work too hard to translate ideas into a story they can understand. (Remember my telling of Hansel and Gretel vs. the story from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm?)
  • Need to fill in any missing ideas from their own knowledge base.
  • Judge writing to be indirect, abstract, dense, or unclear.
  • Interpret the writing in an unexpected way.
  • Distrust or become confused about the information shared.


The last one’s a big problem. If readers don’t trust you (or your expertise), they won’t believe what you say. The greater the stakes, the more you should consider using qualifying language.

What Is Qualifying Language?

Qualifying language includes words, phrases, and sentences that (1) specify degrees of certainty, (2) specify limits on the sufficiency or quality of evidence, (3) limit the applicability of a statement, or (4) include conditions required for a statement to apply.

Examples of qualifying language include appear, basically, can, consider, could, few, frequent, indicate, less, likely, majority, many, may, might, minority, most, numerous, often, possibly, probably, rarely, rather, seem, seldom, some, sometimes, somewhat, suggest, and unlikely.

Let’s look at a sample sentence:

The study proves that people don’t need to eat fruit in order to maintain optimal health.

Do you find the sentence above persuasive? If not, what do you need to know in order to buy into the writer’s argument?

Let’s rewrite the sentence read as follows:

The 2021 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that many people between the ages of twenty and thirty-five may not need to eat fruit on a daily basis in order to maintain optimal health.

The sentence above includes key details (journal name, year of publication, and the age range in question). It also includes qualifying language that makes the argument easier to accept (suggests, many, may, and on a daily basis). Many readers would take the second example more seriously than the first example. How about you?

When to Use Qualifying Language

The bigger and more challenging your argument, the more qualifying language you may need to use. Use it when you want readers to take your ideas seriously without rejecting your argument outright.

Of course, excessive use of qualifiers can make you sound uncertain; too few can make you seem cocky. Don’t get me wrong — confidence is awesome. However, too much confidence or unearned confidence tends to ring false. Worse, it can seem disrespectful. Readers may wonder if you really think they’ll believe a legit study proved that people don’t need to eat fruit in order to maintain optimal health. “How stupid does the writer think we are?” readers may wonder.

It all comes back to this:

  1. Identify the goal you hope to achieve.
  2. Know your audience.
  3. Shape your message strategically, logically, and cohesively in order to speak directly to your audience and achieve your goal.


Learn About the Persuasive Writing Engine

Muddled thoughts make for muddled arguments. Too much or too little qualifying language makes for unpersuasive arguments. The solution: The Persuasive Writing Engine.

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