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Beg to Differ and Other Expressions of Disagreement

    2022-5-20

    Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question from Yevgen, from Ukraine, about the use of “I beg to differ” and disagreement expressions in American English.

    Question:

    Hello everybody. I would like to know the best disagreeing phrases. How common [is the] phrase 'I beg to differ' in American English? Best regards,


    Yevgen, from Ukraine.

    Answer:

    Dear Yevgen,

    Thank you for your question. The expression “I beg to differ” is not commonly used in American English. This British English expression of disagreement is quite formal and extremely polite.

    We have several expressions in American English for disagreement. Some are more formal and polite than others. We will take a closer look at a few of those expressions today.

    You can use these basic statements for disagreeing: either “I disagree” or “I do not agree.” However, sometimes these statements are too strong for certain conversations.

    If we disagree with someone in a formal setting or over a sensitive issue, such as politics or beliefs, we sometimes add the following phrases before our basic messages.

    I am afraid I disagree.

    I see your point, but I do not agree.

    I understand what you are saying, but I disagree.

    These expressions are used to hedge, or soften, what we say. They are used like a barrier - think of a green bush that surrounds a garden or house - to help protect the receiver of the message. Hedging expressions let the writer or speaker say what they want to say less directly or politely.

    When we speak to a close friend or family member, we often use less formal hedge expressions. For example:

    Speaker A (Husband): What time should we wake up? Our flight leaves at 9:30 in the morning.

    Speaker B (Wife): We should wake up at 4:00 a.m. to arrive at the airport by 6:00 a.m.

    Speaker A (Husband): Well, I don’t think so. We will be waiting for a long time!

    In this example, speaker B uses the word “well” to hedge or soften the sentence and “I don’t think so” to disagree. This informal expression of disagreement is acceptable since the speakers are close and familiar with each other.

    Please let us know if these explanations and examples have helped you, Yevgen!

    What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

    And that’s Ask a Teacher.

    I’m Faith Pirlo.

    Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

    Do you have a question for the teacher? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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    Words in This Story

    beg v. to ask for help; to appeal

    polite adj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people

    formal adj. serious or official rather than relaxed and informal

    hedge v. to use words and phrase to soften what we say, making it more indirect to protect the receiver of the message

    bushn. a usually low shrub with many branches