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“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.”

~Pablo Picasso

In speech or writing, vagueness is the imprecise or unclear use of language. Contrast with clarity and specificity. Adjective: vague.

Although vagueness often occurs unintentionally, it may also be employed as a deliberate rhetorical strategy to avoid dealing with an issue or responding directly to a question.

In spoken English, we use a lot of vague words when we are not being very precise.


  • To refer to actions, ideas and facts:

The man thing (=fact) about John is that he always stays clam.

That was a terrible thing (=action) to do.

  • To refer to countable objects (often the speaker and listener know what the object is):

What’s that thing (bicycle) doing in the house?

Put those things (cups and saucers) in he cupboard.

  • To refer to a general situation:

How are things at school?   Things (=life in general) are going really well.


We can use stuff with uncountable nouns (or a group of countable nouns) when we don’t need to give the exact word. Often the listener knows what the speaker is talking about.

Just leave that stuff (=different items of clothes) on the floor. I’ll clear it up.

I play guitar not much classical stuff. (=music)

A sort of…

We often use this phrase when we cannot find the exact word o describe something.

The walls are a sort of yellow. (=not exactly yellow, but more or less)

It’s a sort of horror film. (=not exactly a horror film, but more or less)

And things like that/and that sort of thing

We use these phrases so that we don’t need to continue the examples.

I don’t eat chili and garlic and things like that.

She wears a lot of Armani and Versace and that sort of thing.

Sometime/any time

It’ll be ready sometime next week. (=next week but I don’t when)

You can collect it any time after 10. (=at 10:30 or 12:30, or 3:00 in the afternoon, etc.)

A bit

It usually means ‘a little’, but it can also mean ‘quite a lot’ in spoken English.

Could you speak up a bit? (=a little) I can’t hear you very well.

I thought the hotel was a bit (=quite) expensive, actually.


These words are used with numbers and all mean approximately.

It’ll take you about/around 40 minutes.

We’re expecting 100 people, more or less.

It’s roughly ten miles.

We interviewed 20 or so, I think.

Vague language is not totally accurate or clear. Although some people think this is “bad” English, all native English speakers use vague language when they are unable or unwilling to give accurate information, or they think it is either unnecessary or socially inappropriate to do so.

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Mary Jane

Mary Jane Go has been teaching English for over 13 years. She believes that it is very important to learn English and learn it by heart. For her, it's always the right time for a dance party and that hanging out with friends is indispensable.

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