CAE :: Lesson 38



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Use of English

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Distance language techniques




Have you ever heard of what psychologists call “distancing language”? The theory of “distancing language”, does just that. It creates a distance between the subject and the situation.

Distance language is phrasing used by the people – and overused by the media – to "distance" themselves from a statement, either to avoid thinking about the subject or to distance themselves from its content.

People use many techniques to "distance" themselves from the truth and this is especially apparent when someone is attempting to avoid consequences.

IMPORTANT: Distancing language used orally may indicate that a person is lying.


We often use seem and appear to give information without stating that we definitely know it is true, and in this way distancing ourselves from the information. We can use It seems / appears + that + clause, or subject + seem / appear + infinitive.


It seems / appears (that) prices are increasing in Argentina.


The new manager seems / appears to be quite friendly.


There seems to be a mistake with the bill.

We use It would seem / appear + that + clause to distance us even further from the information, and to make it sound less sure. This is more formal than It seems / appears...


It would seem / appear (that) my boss Diana Wells had been using the company's assets to pay off her private debts.


It would seem / appear (that) our manager has been fooling us all.


Another way of distancing ourselves from the facts, especially in formal written English, is to use the passive form of verbs like say, think, etc. to introduce them. We can use three structures:

a) It + passive verb + that + clause.

NOTE: Verbs commonly used in this pattern are: agree, announce, believe, expect, hope, report, say, suggest, think, and understand.


It is said that reading books increases the knowledge and logic.


It has been announced by OM Personal English that their CPE Proficiency course will be released this year.

b) subject + passive verb + to + infinitive.

NOTE: Verbs commonly used in this pattern are believe, expect, report, say, think, and understand.


The company director is expected to resign in the next few days.


They are understood to have been living in Paraguay since 2005.

c) There + passive verb + to + infinitive.

Compare these examples:
It is said that there are more than 800,000 people living in poverty here.
There are said to be more than 800,000 people living in poverty here.


There are thought to be over 1,000 species in danger of extinction.


There are believed to be eleven million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

MORE DISTANCING: apparently / according to / may / might

We can use apparently (usually either at the beginning or the end of a phrase) to mean that we have heard / read something, but that it may not be true. This is very common in informal conversation.


Apparently, Marcos and Dianne have separated.

We can use according to to specify where information has come from. We use it to attribute opinions to somebody else (NOT  According to me ...).


According to the new research, the idea that we have to drink two litres of water a day is a myth.

Using may / might also suggests that something is a possibility, but not necessarily true.


Dinosaurs may have died out due to rapid climate change.


There are rumours that this rock band might release a new album.

On the next page you will be able to practise this grammar.


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