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Life skills tip of the week: ways of expressing criticism

Macmillan Life Skills: language is a life skillLearning about pragmatics and how to express yourself successfully is a useful life skillsaid Michael Rundell in January when he introduced the new pragmatics series on Macmillan Dictionary. The series is part of the Macmillan Life Skills campaign, offering free resources for English language students and teachers each month.

As part of the series, we’ll bring more useful content and tips from the Macmillan Dictionary on expressing yourself.



This week’s language tip helps with ways of expressing criticism. Sometimes you have to criticize something someone has said or done, and this can require tact and politeness. Here are some expressions that are used to introduce or soften criticism:

I have to say/I’m bound to say: used when you are going to say something that may annoy or upset someone, especially because it expresses criticism:
I have to say/I’m bound to say, I found his performance pretty disappointing.

With respect/With all due respect: used when you are going to disagree with someone or criticize someone, in order to sound more polite:
With all due respect, Mr Davies, I do think you’re being a little unreasonable.

To say the least/To put it mildly: used for suggesting that something is worse or more extreme than you are saying:
I think his behaviour in the meeting was immature, to put it mildly.
I found the flight rather uncomfortable, to say the least.

Shall we say? used in the middle of a sentence for making a statement or criticism seem less severe or offensive:
The training programme seems, shall we say, a little dull.

Don’t get me wrong: used when you want to make sure that someone understands your comments correctly, especially when you are criticizing them:
Don’t get me wrong, I do like Christine, I just don’t think she’s right for you.

How shall I put it?/Let me put it this way: used when you are going to say something that is honest but may sound rude or unkind:
Her boyfriend is a bit, how shall I put it, difficult to get along with.
Let me put it this way, I wouldn’t miss her if she left.

Without wishing to do something: used when you are going to say something that someone may not like:
Without wishing to hurt your feelings, I think you need to lose a little weight.

To be fair/In all fairness/To give someone their due: used for making your criticism of someone or something seem less strong by mentioning something good about them:
Vicki’s schoolwork has been poor this term, though, to be fair, her maths has improved.
She never calls me, though to give her her due, she always remembers my birthday.

Would you like to learn more about pragmatics? Keep a close eye on our pragmatics page; you can find the ninth life skills lesson plan there. For more information about Life Skills, visit the Macmillan Life Skills page.

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Liz Potter

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