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Real World English – Agreeing and disagreeing

Written by Ed Pegg

Welcome to the seventh in this series of posts on Real World English by Ed Pegg. In this series of videos and blog posts we are looking at how words are used in context around the world and how differences in usage in different countries and cultural contexts can cause misunderstanding. We look at differences between US and British English, some common expressions in other English speaking countries and also give you an understanding of the complex topic of pragmatics – how language is used in context. In the seventh video Ed looks at some different ways of agreeing and disagreeing.

If you’re in a meeting and someone says something that you don’t agree with, how would you respond? There are many different options. You could say:

  • I disagree
  • That’s wrong
  • I’m not sure about that
  • I see your point, but…

There are also many other options. Which one is the best to choose?

This depends on several factors, including how strongly you disagree, the relationship between you and the person you disagree with, and the culture both of the person you disagree with and the other people in the meeting.

Saying I disagree or you’re wrong is very direct and can possibly cause offence in some cultures. For example, this way of disagreeing is very uncommon in British English as it is viewed as too aggressive in that culture.

The most common way to disagree in British English is to use the basic structure:

Agree + but + disagree

For example, ‘I see what you mean but I don’t think that’d work’. The reason this is viewed as a more polite way of disagreeing is that you show you have listened and understand the speaker before showing you disagree with them. This style of disagreement is more common in formal situations or when you don’t know the person very well. In more personal situations, it’s more common to disagree directly.

If you want to show that you’re uncertain about something, you can say something like ‘I’m not sure about that’.

This style of disagreement is also common in US English but you may also experience American speakers disagreeing more directly too.

If you want to show you agree with someone, you can simply say ‘yes’ or ‘I agree’. If you want to show that you strongly agree, it’s common to add a strong adverb before agree, such as ‘I completely agree’ or ‘I totally agree’.

If you’re not sure of the best way to agree or disagree in any situation, it’s probably best to choose the most polite form at first, you can always change to a more direct, informal style once you feel more comfortable.

I hope you are enjoying learning about English in the real world and I look forward to seeing you next time. You can catch up on the previous videos and posts, and you can follow my series of monthly blog posts on this topic using the tag realworldenglish.

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Ed Pegg

1 Comment

  • Picking the correct phrase to communicate does require a strong understanding of both the language being used as well as understanding the culture of the individuals involved. As a general rule in America, it is best to find common ground as expressed in the post above before identifying the points on which the disagreement lie.

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