Allow me to clear the situation. I was talking with my professor about a piece of software that I had developed. While we were discussing, I wanted to say something like

I don't want to sound too cocky, but my code is way much more efficient than what we have right now.

But I didn't because I thought "I don't want to sound too cocky" is too informal. What is a formal way of stating such a phrase?

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    By the way, avoid using "In my humble opinion", which sounds ultra-formal, but apparently is taken by most as sarcasm and to mean exactly the opposite. – Canis Lupus Jan 8 '14 at 22:49
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    Note that “way much more” is ungrammatical. It should just be “way more”. Also note, though, that this sounds quite colloquial and informal. I would suggest using far instead of way. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 8 '14 at 23:08
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    "Forgive my arrogance but ..." – hippietrail Jan 9 '14 at 5:28
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    Try not to refer to code as "my code", even if you wrote it all. A minor difference in wording (e.g. "the changes I'm proposing" or even just "the code I wrote") will likely make you appear more open to criticism. – Mels Jan 9 '14 at 10:56
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    as a complete aside, as a general rule, I ignore evertything up to and including the but. If you don't want to sound too cocky, make sure you're not sounding too cocky rather than simply saying that you don't want to do it. – Martijn Jan 9 '14 at 12:31

18 Answers 18


To say the same thing, you can say

I hope it won't be considered presumptuous to say this, but... or

I don't want to sound presumptuous, but...

Synonyms that you can substitute here for presumptuous are
impertinent, overconfident, arrogant, bold, insolent, impudent, and of course the less formal sounding "cocky".

To sound deferential, but not say precisely the same thing, you could say

When I compared the code performance, I was surprised to see the degree of improvement my code achieved.

Wording it either way would leave you open to discussing the possibility that your code or your testing may be flawed, while making your point about its apparent improvement.

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    +1. ‘Presumptuous’ is exactly the word that immediately popped into my mind upon reading the question. Also, if you wish to sound extra formal, you could say, “I don’t mean/wish to sound presumptuous …”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 8 '14 at 23:06
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Or 'If you will excuse me for briefly blowing my own trumpet...' – WS2 Jan 9 '14 at 9:24
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    @WS2, I'd say that's more in the mock-formal department! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 9 '14 at 11:06
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    @WS2 I don't mean to toot my own horn, but... – Shadur Jan 9 '14 at 12:27
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    nice post, but to say you were supprised is both understating your own expertise and seemingly the improvement being a fluke, both a no no in my book :D .. the classic i don't want to <blah blah> but <i will now do exactly what i just said I didn't want to do> :D – Paul Zahra Jan 10 '14 at 12:21

While we often think that our idea/viewpoint/product is far superior to others we encounter, the needs of the creator or other users may be divergent from our own, or what we think theirs are. We may view precision as the primary criterion, while they think ease of use is paramount. And they may be the deciders.

One approach to acknowledge that another viewpoint may be more controlling is

I may be wrong [mistaken/off-base/not fully aware of all the issues], but it seems that my approach may get us closer to a solution.

Even if you are dead certain that their method sucks compared to your elegant solution, you have a better shot at being heard if you suggest that you may not be correct.

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  • so true...i always use this approach – nathan hayfield Jan 8 '14 at 23:50
  • Well, I see your point and I agree. However the question here is to find a replacement for that phrase. Please note that this not an attack, but the first part of your answer, being completely valid, I think it's not actually an answer to my question. +1 nonetheless because I really like the second part of your answer suggesting "I may be wrong". Thank you :) – Pouya Jan 9 '14 at 10:09
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    @Pouya: I think answering 'the question behind the question' ('Can you think of a non-abrasive way to address my Prof about this issue, but in a formal register?') is morally acceptable. bib's fan club seem to agree. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '14 at 12:38
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    @Pouya Part of the issue is the second half of the sentence sounds cocky no matter what you do with the first phrase. Consequently, just softening the intro words comes across as disingenuous. The listener might think the tentativeness in my version is also not sincere, but it tries to get the tone of the whole sentence in alignment. – bib Jan 9 '14 at 12:58
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    I believe this is the key: do you throw in a phrase indicating you're trying to be humble (as the original question requests) or do you make your statement humbly and allow the listener to confirm it. "I've checked my results three times because my solution is an order of magnitude faster than the current solution, and it appears that I may have found a considerably more efficient algorithm." You could be wrong and you admit that, rather than being absolutely certain (and clearly of the opinion that the previous solution stinks). – Wayne Jan 10 '14 at 12:42

Don't just assert; support the assertion.

"Testing with the Arcane Blivit dataset indicates that this implementation improves performance of the Deeble function by 20%, which improves our overall performance on that dataset by 3%. I'd be glad to repeat the experiment with other datasets to make sure this isn't an atypical result." Or explain why the new version is easier to maintain, or handles necessary cases that weren't previously addressed, or whatever else its advantage is. If you can't explain in a few sentences why yours is better, you don't understand it well enough to make the assertion in the first place.

Then, if you're told no, politely try to understand why the answer is no. Don't argue -- listen more than you speak.

In other words: If you don't want to come across as arrogant, don't be arrogant.

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    +1 "If you don't want to come across as arrogant, don't be arrogant". OP should just say what they have to say, and not editorialize it. – THEAO Jan 9 '14 at 8:57
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    You've redefined OP's question for him. It's what I'd usually do too – your suggestion makes eminent sense. However, some pedants usually start complaining at this point. (I'm just complaining about the pedants.) – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '14 at 9:02
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    Granted. There's a tension between answering the question as asked, and answering the question behind the question. Downvoting the question wasn't quite the right response, but since this seemed to be a "how can I" rather than pure language use... – keshlam Jan 9 '14 at 14:02
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    I agree with this answer the most. Saying "I think this is more efficient" might be conceived as cocky. Saying "Look, here are some metrics, is there anything I missed?" – Ev01 Jan 9 '14 at 22:57

If you wanted to preserve the exact structure of your phrase and only change the word "cocky", you could say this:

I don't want to sound too forward, but my code is way much more efficient than what we have right now.

That said, I would highly recommend changing the way you said this in general, but others have given plenty of advice in that regard.

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    Remove "way". It is grammatically incorrect to say "my code is way much more". Or change it to "my code is way more". – Ellie Kesselman Jan 9 '14 at 12:10
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    Just remove "way much" all together, if you're trying not to sound cocky, then avoid comparatives and don't use superlatives – Elias Van Ootegem Jan 9 '14 at 12:29
  • @FeralOink I agree, but the OP wanted to learn how to say just "I don't want to sound too cocky" more formal without the distraction of other advice, so that's what I focused on. – called2voyage Jan 9 '14 at 14:24
  • Okay! I can remove my down vote, now that you made a revision. – Ellie Kesselman Jan 9 '14 at 14:27

With all due respect, I would like to say that ....

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  • Typical Indian Style.... – Amit Ranjan Jan 9 '14 at 11:28
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    This is a good answer! "With all due respect" is a good way to preface it. It isn't "typically Indian", @AmitRanjan Rather, it is good English usage, anywhere. But it is better to change the verb to something more active than "I would like to say"; "With all due respect, my code is..." might be better. – Ellie Kesselman Jan 9 '14 at 12:28
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    I would say this was 'British Style' in that you really mean: "with no respect at all" :-) – Smalltown2k Jan 9 '14 at 16:53
  • @Smalltown2k Same usage here in the US – called2voyage Apr 9 '14 at 16:48

Given the context (discussing your code with your professor) you could opt to support your assertions, and just start your sentence with "I'm sorry but..." and top it off with "that's what my tests showed anyway".

Something along the lines of:

I'm sorry, but I've tested both versions. Mine outperformed what we had so far by n%. Of course, if you see anything wrong with my method of testing, I'm open to suggestions.

This phrasing still boils down to your saying: My code is, I think, more performant (which, incidentally, is perfectly fine: not too informal and not cocky at all), and shifts the topic of the discussion to how to better test performance. The latter is a classic debating trick: by changing the subject, if the opposing party then focussses on the new topic, too, will make it seem as though your initial statement (of your code being the better approach) is agreed upon.

I am a developer, and I've had these which code is best discussions more than I care to mention. I found that shifting the topic to how code is tested avoids those rage-filled-foam-at-the-mouth shouting matches quite well. If my code comes under scrutiny, I don't take offence, even if I felt my code was the better option. I was always able and prepared to defend my work, by suggesting using stuff like unexpected input, sudden loss of network connection, stack overflow and the chances of infinite recursion or data corruption.
Since you're talking to a professor, I take it you're still learning to code: TMTOWTDI (There's More Than One Way To Do It) is something to keep in mind. Give the same challenge to 10 programmers, and you'll see anywhere from 5 to 10 different approaches come back. The best code doesn't exist. It's always the best code in this case, so discussing various approaches is as much a part of programming as testing, flowcharts, debugging, refactoring and writing the actual code.

It's often said that programmers only spend 20% of their time actually programming. So if you don't feel confident challenging existing code, I'd suggest, without wanting to be arrogant or patronizing, you go ahead and dace that "fear" head on. Challenge the code. The worst that can happen is you get an edgy response, briefly pointing out one or two things you've overlooked. That's not bad: that's how you learn.
The best that can happen is that your professor says: "Well, you know what: You're right, I didn't see that", which is a nice thing to hear.

What I'm saying is: Sod the fear of sounding cocky, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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  • One minor amendment to your statement: "Give the same challenge to n programmers and you'll see at least n+1 different approaches come back." Definitely agree with your analysis. – Still.Tony Jan 9 '14 at 16:18
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    @Okuma.Tony: I was tempted to say you'd get anywhere from n/2 to 2^n different approaches, depending on experience, language choice, motivation etc... I'd be hard pressed to find 10 different ways to compute the faculty of an int in Java, but I'd probably be able to give you 20+ ways in scheme :) but this is a language site, not a programmers site, so I left it as is – Elias Van Ootegem Jan 9 '14 at 16:27
  • I have to agree, but remember, any claim, no matter how correctly phrased, needs proof to back it up... I would probably use "I have run some tests against my version of the software and to the original, and have found my code performs with a greater efficiency of xyz%. Could I get your thoughts?" also invites them to listen, and to put in their opinion after taking a look for themselves. – Eliseo d'Annunzio Jan 10 '14 at 0:59
  • @Eliseod'Annunzio: Exactly, that's why I block-quoted a suggestion that does just that: explains you tested both, found a solution that, in the test cases performed better, but immediately asks for a review of the method of testing. I then proceeded to explain that discussing the method of testing also implies discussing how well both versions handle unexpected scenario's and that this, too, are important considerations to take into account – Elias Van Ootegem Jan 10 '14 at 7:26

First of all, I suggest avoiding the phrase "I don't want to sound x, but..." or any variation thereof, because in conveys that you are x, and (even worse) aware of it. Therefore you did the right thing by swallowing down your comment, it would not have helped you since it has the tendency to steer the discussion away from a rational argument.

So you need to convey that you might be wrong, but you are convinced that your solution is superior and offer a rational way to settle the matter. Something like:

"I believe my code is a more efficient solution than the existing approach. If you allow me, I will present some benchmarks to prove it."

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  • This works due to the fact that you're willing to put yourself on the line, with your own proofs. If you're going to say that x is better than y you would back up your claim. The professor who will want to see your proof against the benchmarks of the original will be more receptive to your invitation. – Eliseo d'Annunzio Jan 10 '14 at 0:55

"Can I suggest in all modesty that . . ."

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    I wouldn't say that. It is a bit like 'in my humble opinion'. See above. – WS2 Jan 8 '14 at 23:27
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    Yeah, drawing attention to the depth of your own modesty is generally a sign you're being immodest. – user867 Jan 9 '14 at 1:52
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    It's 'in all modesty' that's the idiom I'm quoting. As a pragmatic marker (subset ameliorator / hedge) it slots into the appropriate place in the matrix sentence. 'Can I suggest [that]. . .?' is another hedging device. 'My code is [ ] much more efficient than what we have right now' is the matrix sentence (here-in-need-of-a-hedge-or-two). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '14 at 12:32
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    Oooh! Impressive! Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd edition :o) Nota bene, it is labelled, "in all modesty (humorous)". I don't know what "subset ameliorator" even means, I confess. You know linguistics, which I do not. Hmm, "subset ameliorator" ~> Make less strident, more mild maybe? – Ellie Kesselman Jan 9 '14 at 12:47
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    Look up hedge (linguistics). Pragmatic markers are included alongside the sentence conveying the principal content to perform a variety of functions, from grabbing the listener's attention to preventing him thumping you; from helping him follow your argument to giving an estimate of the reliability of the information you're relaying. Hedges / mitigators have an ameliorating role. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '14 at 22:25

Personally I wouldn't say straight up that it's a better solution. I would let your code do the talking for you.

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    Wow that's by far the best answer! You made my day. – Flek Jan 10 '14 at 6:33

Humbly speaking, "way much more" sounds overly idiomatic. Perhaps your code halves the typical run time and uses fewer shared system resources than the current implementation.

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You could rephrase your statement as a question, perhaps:

If we used this alternative approach, would it be more efficient?

In business contexts I have found this to be by far the best approach to tell someone about an improvement without hurting their feelings. I think psychologically it's different, because they are telling themselves, rather than you telling them.

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"I do hope that this approach improves upon the existing efficiency of the existing code."

"Do you think that by going about the solution in this fashion offers more than just a theoretical advantage over the existing code?"

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I don't want to sound too cocky, but my code is way much more efficient than what we have right now.

This does sound arrogant, and begging to be belittled and dismissed. If a student of mine addressed me in this fashion, I would bite my tongue and listen to his/her code but it had better be damn good for me to take the solution seriously.

There's nothing wrong in being polite and deferential, it's also a sign of intelligence and humility. In your case I would say to the professor:

I'm not being boastful when I claim that my code, judging by its performance and its test results, is extremely efficient. However, I'd really appreciate hearing your input/considerations/criticisms on the matter.

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  • In case this needed saying, the term boastful is a more formal alternative to cocky – Mari-Lou A Nov 30 '14 at 7:53

same as Keshlam

Ultimately all these formulas dont make any sense. If you dont want to contradict you shut up, and if you want to sound cocky you'll use the meaningless formulas mentioned above.

But if you want to be just honest just say it, or explain it:

  • for this and that reason this (instead of my) code is better
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    Yes, this makes sense, but bosses almost universally react well to stroking. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 9 '14 at 15:15

As mentioned by @ollym, let your code do the talking.

Although the current program is excellent, I believe I may have implemented a few improvements...

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If you're proud of your accomplishment, you can be open about it and invite the professor to share in your joy:

I am proud to report that my code runs much faster than the current version. Would you like to take a look?

Whether this is appropriate depends on the circumstances, of course. If the professor is teaching you how to write faster code, then naturally the professor will be glad to hear your news. If you and others are working on the software together, then adding an improvement to the software will be welcomed by all. On the other hand, if you are competing with the author of the current version and have no intention of collaborating, it might be best to hold silent in that conversation and celebrate your victory somewhere else.

The appropriate phrasing really depends on what you want your listener to do with the information: celebrate with you? feel ashamed and defeated? get angry? check to see if you're right? put your code into the next version? There are clear and formal ways to do all of these things.

On the other hand, saying, "I don't want to sound X, but ..." says pretty clearly that you're about to say something X. Even this can be turned to your advantage with humor, though. "I don't want to sound cocky, but my code totally left yours in the dust!" This amplifies the cockiness so much that it will likely be heard playfully.

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When trying to be humble about one's opinions, I often find the words 'believe' and 'appear' to be quite helpful. I also personalize the opinion, so that if I might be found incorrect, it is no more than that… an error in my perception.

In your case, I would have approached the topic like this:

It appears to me that this method might be superior to that one.

Also, you might consider the Socratic method. That would entail asking directed questions so that the other finds themselves arriving at your solution by themselves:

What would happen if you did that this way?

Could you even remove that outer loop altogether if you did that this way?

I find that this approach lends itself well to learning on both sides. I sometimes learn that I'm not necessarily as smart as I believed myself to be and at other times, someone else may benefit from my observations.

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    Says the ever-modest MrWonderful :o) That reminds me of my co-worker's boyfriend's name, "Perfecto". – Ellie Kesselman Jan 17 '14 at 4:45
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    @FeralOink: Well, for me, that would be a slight oversell, I'm afraid. ;-) – MrWonderful Jan 17 '14 at 21:42

"Not to toot my own horn, but ..."

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    Lol! That isn't more formal! You made me laugh! That expression always reminds me of kazoos. – Ellie Kesselman Jan 9 '14 at 12:30

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