Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you have a hard time talking about “touchy subjects”? What is a touchy subject?

Do you ever hear somebody try to soften something they are about to say?

Do you want to know how to address or bring things up that are a bit controversial in English?

Today we are going to examine a phrase that native speakers use in English that can have some controversy to it.

You will see how it’s used, but also see how it may be taken if used too often.

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A Nicer Approach To Controversial Subjects

Sometimes you want to say something, but you know that it may come off wrong.

Sometimes you want to say something but you recognize that it may be controversial.

The phrase we’re looking at here is “Not to ________, but”

This could be a few things:

  • “Not to be SOMETHING, but”
  • “Not to get SOMETHING, but”
  • “Not to sound SOMETHING, but”

These are useful tools overall but they can be a bit overused sometimes too.

You may hear these a lot, and that’s not always a good thing.

Looking At How This Works

You’ve probably heard these types of phrases used before, but you want to know the connotation behind them.

Let’s look at some examples of how these phrases work to get it in context.

  • “Not to get political but I really think you should watch the debates.”
  • “Not to sound critical but you haven’t really cleaned your place in a long time.”
  • “Not to be rude but you should probably change into some nicer clothes.”

How Are They Taken Care Of?

So you can see why there may be a bit of controversy behind these phrases.

It’s saying you aren’t trying to do something but you do it anyhow!

It’s not necessarily always used in this way, but watch out for people using this phrase excessively.

Oftentimes what they are about to say is often exactly what they are saying they are trying to avoid.

Why do people use this phrase?

This may be used to soften what they are about to say.

That’s to say it may not sound as bad if they are going to say something critical or even rude.

You don’t often hear this phrase used about positive things, it always tends to be more negative in nature.

Being Aware of How This May Come Across

Though we may have all used this type of phrase, you do want to be aware of how it may come across.

It may not even be intended to be rude, but it can come across that way if you’re not careful with your tone.

It’s nice to soften things from time to time, but this phrase could irritate people if you use it too frequently.

However, it can be a nice tool, especially if you are using it to talk about something other than the person you are talking to. 

Here are some examples:

L: This dress looks gorgeous! You should get it for the party

M: Hmmm, not to be picky about price, but it’s a little over my budget

M: Let’s take the train

L: Not to sound like a know it all, but I know the train will take too long!


This is a good phrase for “touchy” subjects like politics, but it is really avoiding what you want to say.

You have to decide how direct to be and also know that people may be able to see through this phrase.

Consider who you are talking to and the comfort level that you have with them.

Also consider the subject matter, and know that the way in which you deliver the message is always important too.

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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