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In sentences such as:

If someone calls you, could you just..

Could you just help me..

Is the just acting as a hedging expression used to reduce the force of the interrogative sentence?

  • Sorry, I meant for interrogative sentences. I think "just" makes the interrogative sentence sound more casual. For example if I said, "if someone calls you, could you just say..." is the "just " making the sentence request more casual or does it serve another purpose. Thanks! – dngr193 Mar 2 '17 at 8:55
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    "Just" means the same as "simply". It is meant to minimize the apparent scope of the request, frame it as not a big deal. – fixer1234 Mar 2 '17 at 9:09
  • @fixer 'Just' does not mean the same as 'simply' in all situations. It also has a pragmatic, hedging, usage, as OP implies. (There are other senses, eg 'fair [adj], but let's not get beyond the focus particle / hedging particle domain.) – Edwin Ashworth Mar 2 '17 at 11:45
  • At the Should one ever use the word please in an order or demand? thread is written [EA] 'Would you please just put the injured bird out of its misery' contains four hedging devices: a modal downtoner (which I believe Fraser would claim was a pragmatic marker but not in the concrete – word or phrase – sense; his term here would, I think, be a lexical marker – an indication within the basic sentence structure itself rather than an adjunct), two pragmatic markers, ... – Edwin Ashworth Mar 2 '17 at 11:51
  • and a euphemism. Pragmatic markers (words or phrases) are devices used to facilitate (lubricate?) interpersonal communication rather than modify the content of a statement. Some are traditionally known as sentence adverbials, comment clauses; a more recent term for some is sentence connectors.' // See also Mr Hen's answer here. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 2 '17 at 11:52
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CDO provides a good general article on hedges, which I think is relevant enough to reproduce in toto:

Hedges (just)

from English Grammar Today

We use hedges to soften what we say or write. Hedges are an important part of polite conversation. They make what we say less direct [– less confrontational and/or less pontifical/dogmatic]. The most common forms of hedging involve tense and aspect, modal expressions including modal verbs and adverbs, vague language such as sort of and kind of, and some verbs.

Tense and aspect

'I wondered if I could have a word with you?' (less direct and more polite than 'Could I have a word with you?')

Modal expressions

'The answer could be that the trees have some sort of disease.' (less direct than The answer is that …)

'Maybe we should have a word with him about it?' (less direct than We should or we must have a word with him about it.)

'This is possibly the best performance in the Olympics.'

Vague language

'It’s sort of difficult to say.' (less direct than It’s difficult to say)

'Could you just post this letter for me?'

Verbs (feel)

Some verbs (such as feel, suppose, reckon) can be used to hedge personal statements, that is, to make personal statements less direct:

'We feel he should let them decide whether to buy the flat.' (less direct than He should let them decide …)

'I reckon that’s the best answer to the problem.' (less direct than That’s the best answer to the problem.)

Hedges in academic writing

We use certain types of hedging in writing, especially in academic writing, so that statements don’t seem to rely simply on personal opinion.

We often use structures with it in the passive such as it is argued that and it has been agreed that:

'It has been generally agreed that these new video phone technologies will transform everyday life.' (a more cautious and less personal statement than I agree that …)

See also:

Vague expressions

Modality: introduction

Politeness

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In the examples given, no, I don't think "just" is acting as a hedging expression or trying to reduce the force of the request. Rather it serves a restrictive purpose, seeking to limit the other person's freedom of action, or scope for initiative. It serves to emphasise that the speaker wants the other person to follow instructions precisely.

If someone calls you could you just put them straight through to me

means do not try to deal with things yourself.

If someone calls you could you just say you are busy

means do not get into a conversation but "just" get rid of the caller.

If someone calls you could you just write down exactly what they say.

means do not try to interpret what they mean. I want to know what the caller said, not what you think they meant.

Could you just help me to move this table please?

I don't want your opinion as to where we should put it, I just want you to help me move it.

Could you just put the bird out of its misery?

Don't faff around trying to save it or make it comfortable, I just want it dead.

There are many other ways just is used, but in a request it can be restrictive. It means precisely or exactly.

My favourite usage is the following:

Have you had lunch? No, I just had a sandwich, a bag of crisps, an apple, a biscuit and a piece of cake.

  • So would you say CDO's statement that 'just' can be purely a hedge (compare 'sort of') in 'Could you just post this letter for me?' rather than having to be a restricting modifier is incorrect? I'm with CDO here: 'just' is versatile. And as OP focuses on the hedging (pragmatic) usage, supporting evidence is required if a claim is made that this isn't the case here. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 2 '17 at 20:48

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