AEE 1196: How to Estimate in English

Have you ever heard somebody say “or so” in a sentence?

Do you want to know how to use this term properly to estimate numbers, times, or amounts?

On episode 1178, we spoke about the phrase “give or take” and how it’s great to show flexibility.

This episode is our follow up on other phrases, and funnily enough, a listener asked a similar question about a different phrase.

This is a hot topic, and so we’re going to show you how and when you might use this form of estimation.

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Hi Lindsay, Michelle and Jessica,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you for an outstanding job! I listen to All Ears English everyday on my way to work. You help me not only to improve my English, but also to face the crazy traffic.

I was watching a video lesson and the teacher said: ‘I did a project for probably about 10 or so years ago.’ In this phrase, ‘so’ means ‘more’, but I have never seen this word being used in this context before.

Is it common to use it like this? For instance, could I say ‘Last week I spent 100 bucks or so’?

If you could give more explanation regarding this topic, that would be great!

Thank you,

Nay

Understanding A Conversational Phrase

This is a great question because it has to do with a conversational phrase.

So understanding that means that even though these are tiny words, they mean a lot and can really help you express yourself.

So what does “or so” mean?

It means approximately!

It ultimately means the same thing as give or take. It’s an approximation.

Let’s dive in more to really understand what this means and how it can be used.

When and How To Use This

When we look at the example, it may not be that “or so” meant more or less in this instance–it can actually be either.

There are times when “or so” works really well and can be the perfect addition to an English conversation.

You want to be sure to focus on this conversational phrase at the right time, so let’s take a look at some examples.

You can use “or so” when you:

  • Don’t know exactly how much: You are using it as a sort of placeholder answer, and therefore it works quite well.   “I want to invite 10 or so people to my party.”
  • Are estimating: You use this often when you’re trying to summarize or estimate something. Like for example you wouldn’t say I’m 13 and a half minutes away. Instead you’d say “I’ll be there in 15 minutes or so.”

In the example question about “last week I spent 100 bucks or so” – it is correct, but for some reason it seems slightly unnatural.

You’d probably be better off saying “about or “around.”

For example, you could say, “I spend about/around 100 bucks.”

Some Great Examples To Use

How else can you say this?

We’re going to look at a bunch of different ways to say this.

We’re talking here about flexibility and approximation, and that fits quite well here.

Here are a few examples that show you exactly how to use this.

  • About: “I’ll call you in about 20 minutes.”
  • Around: “There are around 6 different cities I want to go to in the upcoming year.”
  • More or less: “I gained 5 pounds, more or less, over the holidays.”
  • Roughly: “I walked the dog roughly 2 hours ago, so she could go out again.”- a bit more formal!
  • Finally – “I’ll call you in 20 minutes, or so.” – sometimes someone may put “or so” in another place like at the end of a sentence.

Placement Is Everything Here

Where you put the additional word has a lot to do with properly carrying off the phrase.

Depending on which of the above words that you use for the appropriate sentence, you want to take note of where the placement of it is.

The way that you phrase this and the order of the words helps to make it a proper sentence.

Notice the placement of these words because that matters greatly here.

“I’ll call you in about 20 minutes”- before the amount

“‘I’ll call you in around 20 minutes”- before the amount

“I’ll call you in 20 minutes, more or less.”- You would usually use this after the amount, but you might sometimes hear it used the other way

“I’ll call you in roughly 20 minutes” – I would use this before the amount, but I could imagine people using it the other way-finally – “I’ll call you in 20 minutes, or so.” – sometimes someone may put or so in another place

These phrases are successful based on where you put the words, so try to keep that in mind.

A Roleplay To Help

Looking at a phrase such as this can be quite helpful.

This is especially true when you want to deliver a phrase properly and the order of the words matters here.

Here’s a roleplay to help you see how this works in real life.

Lindsay is helping me plan a trip to the beach

M: Ok so…what should I pack?

L: Well how long are you going to be there?

M: Probably about 4 days.

L: Ok so bring a few pairs of shorts, and make sure you bring pants too because it gets chilly at night

M: Gotcha. Are there restaurants near the hotel?

L: Yeah there are 5 or so restaurants right out your door!

M: That’s amazing! And how hot does it usually get?

L: It’s usually around 80 degrees in the day and 60 at night, more or less.

M: Thanks Lindsay! I haven’t been to the beach in roughly 3 years soit will be great to get back!


Takeaway

There are so many ways to approximate, as we discussed in the give or take episode.

It’s important to know multiple ways to express this because if you are too exact sometimes, it may sound a little odd.

You also want to be careful and sometimes going with an approximate answer can be good because you may not KNOW the exact answer.

Try these out today- life is full of opportunities to use these expressions.

This is a great way to make connections through a conversational type of phrase.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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