At a rough guess: talking about approximate numbers and amounts

a young man counting on his fingers and looking puzzled
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by Liz Walter

We often need to talk about amounts and numbers that are not exact, either because an exact figure isn’t needed or because we don’t know it. This post looks at some words and phrases for doing this.

The most basic and common way is to use the prepositions around or (especially in British rather than American English) about. We can also say round about:

There were around 50 deer in the herd.

The talk will last about 30 minutes.

She lives round about a mile from the office.

The adverbs approximately and (slightly less formal) roughly express the same idea. We can also use the phrase roughly speaking:

The building work will take approximately ten weeks.

The town has a population of roughly 150,000.

Roughly speaking, 40% of households will benefit from these measures.

Sometimes we show the idea that a figure we have just given is approximate by adding a phrase such as or so, or thereabouts or more or less:

We had to wait for five minutes or so.

You will need five metres of fabric or thereabouts.

We picked three kilos of strawberries, more or less.

The suffix -ish can be attached to numbers to show that they aren’t exact. This is often done to talk about someone’s age:

Her parents are sixtyish.

The phrase give or take is often followed by a smaller amount or number than the one you have just given. It can also be used on its own after the first number:

I spent two years there, give or take the odd day.

There were a thousand people there, give or take.

We often express the idea that a figure is approximate by using phrases such as (somewhere) in the region/area of or something like:

These cars cost somewhere in the region of £60,000.

I have seen somewhere in the area of forty patients with this condition.

He went on a diet and lost something like 20 kilos in six months.

Finally, we can indicate that we are not quite sure of an exact amount by qualifying what we say with a phrase such as at a (rough) guess, I’d say or I’d guess:

At a rough guess, I’d say she earns twice as much as me.

I’d guess there were over 400 people at the event.

I hope you have found these words and phrases useful. Let me know in the comments if you can think of any others.

13 thoughts on “At a rough guess: talking about approximate numbers and amounts

  1. Is it okay to say ”round sth off to”? For example: How long have you been working for that company? – For 11 and a half months. – Okay, let’s round this off to a year

  2. Thank Liz! Much appreciated for such an interesting article. (I’ve just added “give or take” to my vocab band). Have a wonderful day!!

  3. Denis

    Very informative. Let me kindly add to that.
    “In the vicinity of something” means approximately the stated amount: “The price for a house here is in the vicinity of $450,000.”
    “Rule of thumb” means a practical and approximate way of measuring or deciding about something: “As a rule of thumb, the higher the yield offered, the riskier the investments will be.”
    A ballpark estimate or figure is a number that is a guess, but one that you believe is near the correct number.
    We can use the phrase “in the (right) ballpark” to talk about figures that are close to the right number: “Accounts receivable may be less than the printed numbers, but they’re in the right ballpark.”

    Best wishes

  4. linh

    thank you for sharing, let’s me sumary the way to talk some thing that’s approximate:
    – add ish on number
    – the common way: use about, around, roundly, so or, or thereabout, give or take, in the region of, in the area of, approximately, something like
    – i’d say…, id guess…

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