Startseite Insights Blog This one trick makes your speech 10 times clearer

This one trick makes your speech 10 times clearer

Do away with the subjunctive! A plea for clear communication.

“I would say that perhaps the best thing to do would be to make a phone call about this.” Who hasn’t heard sentences like that? The result: confusion. We show you how to do it better.

Jannes Kuehn
13. March 2022

"We could just make a call then when we're done. I would then..."

When there is such a sentence under a mail, we are often confused. Who is calling whom? Why doesn’t the sender pick up the phone directly instead of writing about this possibility? At the same time, it was most likely not the sender’s intention to confuse the addressee. The sender in our example definitely chose a polite option – but in this case, it also sends an unclear message.

Subjunctive (“It would be best”) and filler words (“maybe”) are often used to seem less intrusive and more polite overall. However, they also make statements more vague and can cause misunderstandings. This can create additional communication loops that cost time. Concrete formulations not only make the reader seem more authoritative, but also more purposeful. So let’s strive for clear communication.

Would have, could have, should have!

This is easy to do in e-mails – especially when critically proofreading after typing. The subjunctive is at the top of the list of vague expressions. Get it out of your e-mails! After all, it describes possibilities, but we want (in most cases) to represent a concrete fact. So: Let’s use the indicative. A similar situation often occurs with the passive voice and the pronoun “one”.

Unnecessity of complications

In addition, we tend to complicate matters, especially when they are complex. In 2017, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia announced the following: “Pursuant to §1 of the city’s main statutes, the execution of the public announcement of the city’s regulatory ordinance of 1.1.11 will take place on 2.1.11 by making it available on the city’s website at” Lots of nouns, few verbs. As a result, we have as much idea of what the city is trying to tell us after reading the sentence as before. Wolf Schneider, professor, columnist and winner of the Media Prize for Language Culture, recognizes why: verbs are dynamic and carry the action. Few verbs = little action. Certainly, not everything can be broken down to a noun and a verb. But if we take a little care to rein in the wild noun monster, that’s enough.

These are peanuts

Subjunctive, passive voice, filler words – we know all that from school. What’s new now? The trick is not to use as few subjunctives as possible in texts, but rather to find the golden mean: For all our clarity, we still want to appear friendly – just as we are.

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