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How to Avoid Offending Someone in English Conversation

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Tue, Nov 19, 2013 @ 07:40 AM

how to avoid offending someone in English conversationsDid you know that just learning English vocabulary words is not enough?

Do you sometimes wonder if your phrases are offensive when you don't intend them to be that way?

That can be embarrassing!

Let's stop the confusion today!

In this post I will show you how certain phrases might be offensive and how you can "soften" your phrases to make them more acceptable in conversation.




8 ways to make a phrase less direct


  • 8 ways to make a phrase less direct in English"I think..."
  • "Don't you think...?"
  • "It seems like..."
  • "Maybe..."
  • "What about...?"
  • "I'm not sure, but maybe..."
  • "If I were you..."
  • "This is just a thought, but..."







Scenario # 1: Telling someone that they are incorrect

how to tell someone they are incorrect in EnglishLet's imagine that you are in class or at work and you have to tell someone that they are wrong about something. How would you communicate that without offending them?

Don't say:

  • "You're wrong"

  • "That's not right"




Instead you should say:

  • "Let's take another look at that..."

  • "I'm not so sure about that."

  • "I don't know because..."

  • "What about (your contrasting idea) instead"?




Scenario # 2: Giving feedback on someone's performance

 giving feedback in English on presentation performanceIn this situation, you are a manager and your colleague asks you for honest feedback regarding his or her performance in a presentation.

You believe that the presentation was a disaster and you want to communicate to him that he should prepare more next time, but you don't want to offend him.


Don't say:

  • "Your presentation was terrible."

  • "That was awful."


 Instead you should say:

  • "There were some things that went well, such as (examples), but next time you might want to focus more on (the thing that went poorly)."

  • "It wasn't bad, but you could improve (the thing that went poorly)."

  • "Next time you could try (a suggestion)."

  • "If I were you, I would work more on (the thing that went poorly)."

  • "Why don't you try (a suggestion) next time?"




Scenario # 3: Commenting on someone's appearance

commenting on someone's appearance in EnglishThis one is tricky!

Let's imagine that you and a friend are going to a fancy cocktail party together, but your friend is wearing jeans and you know that if she shows up in those clothes she will feel uncomfortable because she will be underdressed.

How do you communicate that without making her feel bad?


Don't say:

  • "You look kind of messy."

  • "You look bad."

  • "You look terrible."


Instead you should say:

  • "Hey did you know that this party is formal?"

  • "Do you think that you might be a bit underdressed?"

  • "Do you want to change your shirt or anything?"

  • "Do you think that maybe you should put on a tie?"



I hope that this article will help you make your phrases more polite if you have been concerned or confused about this in the past!

Keep working hard!






Photo credits: Andy Hay, Aislin Ritchie, Crystl, evanforester, codorsquid

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