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What Are Hedge Words?

words are one of the most important features in Statement Analysis. In deceptive statements they are not used to show caution, but rather to intentionally create a miasma of vagueness that obscures the facts.

In their most innocent form, hedges can function as manifestations of politeness and modesty. They are used to soften a verbal blow to the other person's ego.. In their more insidious use they function as a subtle means to avoid responsibility and evade the truth.

To H(edge) by adding extraneous equivocating words is the HEDGE by which the deceptive subject tries to gain an EDGE on the interviewer.

We have created the Forensic Statement Analysis Lexicon in order to give that EDGE back to you the interviewer. Please follow the link to learn more about how the LEXICON can help you in your work.


Hedges can be defined as any device that qualifies the writer's commitment to the truth of what is being communicated. Hedges are used to weaken the truth value of an utterance.. For instance, compare the sentences

"I don't think I'm responsible." and "I'm not responsible."

Almost any lexical term or expression can function as a hedge. In the narrowest sense, according to Hyland, hedges can be considered "the expression of tentativeness and possibility." For this reason most hedges can be said to have an epistemic modality structure, such as "a possible interpretation of this seemingly irrefutable evidence might be that."

The notion "hedge" was introduced by George Lakoff in "Hedges: a Study in Meaning Criteria and the Logic of Fuzzy Concepts", Journal of Philosophical Logic, 2(1973), 458-508. Lakoff gives a list of more than 60 'hedges and related phenomena', including:

sort of, kind of, rather, basically, very, often, almost, as it were, in
one sense, a regular, so to say, in name only, really, pseudo-, he calls
himself a, ... and many others.

I've tried to find a clear definition of the notion "hedge", but I haven't
found one yet. Helpful suggestions are off course always very welcome!
In FST the notion "hedge" is often identified with "adverb with an
adjective", but that excludes hedges like "a regular" (e.g. in "a regular

Markkanen and Schroder in their seminal study have distinguished more their fifty varieties of hedging structure. One of the most curious features of hedging is that it can give equal weight to opposing options:

  1. Both certainty and uncertainty: ("I'm sure he is the man who attacked me. " as well as "I'm not sure he is the man who attacked me.")
  2. Attribution- including both personalization: ("I believe that he is guilty.") and depersonalization: ("The evidence suggest that he is guilty.") The neutral unhedged statement is: ("He is guilty.")
  3. Qualification, which can be defined as structures that blur distinctions of quantity and frequency. Examples of quantity hedges taken from the Forensic Statement Analysis Lexicon are: "approximately," "almost," and "largely." Examples of frequency hedges are: "sometimes," "rarely," and "on occasion." Such hedge structures can also span the continuum between ALL and NO sets. They can be STRENGTHENERS such as: "It is quite evident that he had a hand in the planning of the robbery." Or WEAKENERS , such as "He was at least partially involved in the planning of the heist."

Hedge words in a statement can occur alone or in multiples, as demonstrated by the following series of incremental hedges:

  • Mike said
  • Someone said
  • Someone might have said
  • Someone might have possibly said
  • Someone might have possibly implied
  • It is probable that someone might have possibly implied
  • It is admittedly probable that someone might have possibly implied

Hedge words are not syntactically localized. They can be found anywhere in the sentence. Take, for example the following clear statement, and observe how it can be hedged in different ways:

  • John walked to the beach yesterday.
  • Someone walked to the beach yesterday.
  • Someone went to the beach yesterday.
  • Someone went somewhere yesterday.
  • Someone went somewhere at some point.
  • And finally all meaning and truth disappears with:
    Someone did something somewhere at some point.

Please note that all of the above hedged permutations can be found in the Forensic Statement Analysis Lexicon along with tips showing how to most effectively unearth John and the beach from under the mud of verbiage.

In linguistics "hedge" words are often associated with weakening, or DEINTENSIFICATION . By this limited definition "rather" is considered to be a hedge, but "very" isn't. In The Forensic Statement Analysis Lexicon gratuitous INTESIFIERS are also extensively inventoried and categorized. The rationale for this is that "too much" distracts and detracts from the truth of a statement as much as "too little." Compare the statement:

I love you.
I really love you.

The "really," which apparently demonstrates greater love, in fact undermines the force of the expression by making an elliptical credibility argument.

Other examples of INTESIFIERS are "utterly," "totally," "manifestly," and "categorically."

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