#216: Soft vs. Assertive Language in English

Sep 8, 2021 | Business Professional English

Several months ago I received this fantastic question from Evandro who asked:

“I received one interesting link, but it seems poorly discussed. Maybe you could do something related to this article, with more explanations and examples.” 

The article in question is titled, “10 words and phrases to stop saying in 2021” including words such as might, pretty, and I think.

For example: 

  • That might be a good idea. 
  • That’s a pretty good option.
  • I think that might work.

The argument is that these words diminish or minimize the power of your words or weaken your statements.

In the past few months, I’ve actually shared lessons on how to use the word ‘pretty’ as an adverb and on 7 ways to use might in English

So, is there truth to this article? 

Should you stop saying might, pretty, and I think in English?

The answer is simple: Yes. And No.

The truth is, there is a time and place for ALL language.

There’s a time to soften and there’s a time to strengthen.

As you become a more advanced English speaker, understanding the nuance of language, the subtle differences of the words you choose will help you be a better, more powerful speaker overall, even if you do use might, pretty, I think.

3 Ways to Switch Between Soft vs. Assertive Language in English

Strategy #1: Identify Appropriacy and Use Sparingly

Remember that it’s ok to use words like “pretty”, “might”, and “I think”. 

These words can be used in casual conversations, when brainstorming, and when you truly want to express potential or possibility as opposed to certainty. 

For example:

  • It might be a possible solution. 
  • That’s a pretty good idea. 

Similarly, “I think” is a powerful “I” statement for introducing your opinion. 

  • I think we should consider the potential impacts on our program before moving forward. 

However, be mindful of how often you use these words or phrases, and whether they clearly communicate your thoughts. 

Strategy #2: Show Assertiveness

Overusing words and phrases that tend to weaken or soften a statement, impacts the listener’s perception of YOUR assertiveness and confidence.

The best way to avoid verbal hedge is to think of bolder or more powerful substitutes. 

For example:

Instead of saying “Our team had pretty good results in the second quarter”, you could say “Our team had great results in the second quarter.” 

Instead of “pretty”, try substituting:

  • Very/Extremely
  • Incredibly/Astoundingly 
  • So
  • Understandably
  • Unexpectedly


Instead of “might”, try exploring:

  • Should 
  • Can
  • Is
  • Do
  • Will/Won’t


Similarly, break away from the repetitive use of “I think” to use stronger “I” statements. 

For example:

Instead of “I think women should have equal pay”, saying “I believe women should have equal pay” creates a stronger impression on the listener.

Choosing “believe”, or other powerful phrases, demonstrates that you’re taking full ownership of your statement and communicating that it isn’t a passing thought

Instead of “I think”, explore phrases like:

  • I believe…
  • I understand that…
  • I know…
  • Based on my experience…


Strategy #3: Eliminate 

Sometimes, conciseness is the best approach to communicating with strength and confidence. 

To do that, eliminate “pretty”, “might”, or “I think” from your statement. 

If you know that something is highly likely or is factual, eliminate “might” or “pretty.” 

  • Instead of “The kids were pretty tired after playing on the beach all day”, say “The kids were tired after playing on the beach all day.” 


The same approach can also be used for “I think.”

Not prefacing a statement with “I think” allows you to communicate with greater certainty and assertiveness. 

  • Instead of “I think our product is still too new to draw conclusions about its performance”, you could say “Our product is still too new to draw conclusions about its performance.” 

Do you notice the strength and confidence in the second statement? 

Time to practice!

Based on what you learned in the Confident English lessons, read the phrases below and identify better alternatives. 

  • The movie was pretty interesting and I can’t wait to see part two!
  • Nora is stuck in traffic and might be running late. 
  • I think our team needs to prioritize tasks that should be completed before the product launches. 

The best place to practice and share is in the comment section below.

Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!

~ Annemarie


P.S. Are you looking for a community to provide support, help you stay motivated, and guarantee that you grow? Check out our Confident Women Community.

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