Grammar Time: Distancing Expressions

Distancing expressions are often used in journalism when a speaker wants to stress that the information is second-hand and comes from a specific source or sources, rather than being their own knowledge or opinion, or they are not sure of the sources.

Exam in Mind Level B2

Passive Voice with Reporting Verbs 

It is especially used in formal written English. Reporting verbs are used in the passive: say, think, believe, claim, consider, expect, hope, know, report, suggest, understand, etc.

It + passive verb + that + clause

  • It is believed that the government will decrease the tax by the end of the year.
  • It is believed that the murderer in no longer in the city.
  • It has been announced that they are going to cancel the tour.

Subject + passive verb + to + infinitive

  • The government is believed to decrease the tax by the end of next year.
  • He is thought to be a close associate of the terrorist.
  • The terrorist is believed to have fled to the mountains.

There + passive verb + to + infinitive

  • There are said to be new proposals for the project (plural)
  • There is believed to be a new donor for the organization (singular)
  • There are said to be new leads on the case.

Other Distancing Expressions

Seem / Appear

Seem and appear are used to give information without stating that we definitely know it is true, this way we can distance ourselves from that information. Appear is slightly more formal than seem.

It seems / appears that + clause

  • It seems that the environment will have improved by the end of this pandemic.
  • It appears that the new series will begin shooting in about two months.
  • It seems that the disease is now under control.
  • It appears that the two leaders are holding secret talks.

subject + seem / appear + to infinitive

  • The new minister appears to be very concerned about the climate.
  • Politicians seem to be working on the effects of climate change.
  • Peter seems to have learned from all his bad experiences.
  • She appears to have many friends.
  • Diabetes appears to run in families.

there + seem + to infinitive

  • There seems to be a great acceptance among members. (singular)
  • There seem to have been two options to solve the crisis. (plural)
  • There seem to be double standards at work here.
  • There seems to be lack of communication.

It would seem / appear that + clause

If we want to distance ourselves even further from the information and make it sound even less sure, the expression It would seem/ appear that can be used. It is more formal than it seems / appears.

  • It would seem that the situation is finally under control.
  • It would seem that we all agree.
  • It would seem that someone left the building unlocked.
  • It would appear that the objection to local income tax is political rather than practical.
  • In the realm of secret diplomacy it would appear that public opinion had only a very minor role to play.


Apparently (мабуть, очевидно, безсумнівно) – as far as one knows or can see; used to say you have read or been told something although you are not certain it is true.

Apparently can be written at the beginning or end of the sentence. It means that we have read or heard but it may not be true. It is used in informal conversation:

  • Apparently, the new president of the company is going to visit the new headquarters by the end of the month.
  • Apparently it’s going to rain today.
  • Apparently the jewellery wasn’t insured.
  • Oil prices fell this week to their lowest level in fourteen months, apparently because of over-production.
  • Aspirin apparently thins the blood and inhibits clotting.

According to… + clause

It specifies where the information comes from and it attributes opinions to someone else.

  • According to a recent research, the probability of suffering heart attacks is increasing in the British population.
  • According to ancient legend, the river is a goddess.
  • According to the forecast, it will be sunny tomorrow.
  • According to observers, the plane exploded shortly after take-off.

May / might

They suggest that something is a possibility but not necessarily true.

  • They might be spending their holidays together.
  • A bird may be known by its song.
  • It might be sensible to get a solicitor.
  • There might be a temptation to cheat if students sit too close together.
  • I took the offer at face value. I didn’t think they might be trying to trick me.
  • The boss may resign but we haven’t received confirmation yet.
  • The lack of rain might be linked to global warming.

Have Practice in Using Distancing Expressions

Task 1. Rewrite the sentences using It seems/appears that + clause.

Example: The government appears to be planning to raise taxes. – It appears that the government is planning to raise taxes.

  1. Men seem to be more at risk from this disease than women.
  2. She appears to have changed her mind since I last spoke to her.
  3. You seem to be unable to deal with this problem efficiently.
  4. The weather seems to be about to improve.
  5. The robbers appear to have been wearing face masks.

Task 2. Rewrite the sentences using Subject + passive verb + to + infinitive

Example: It is thought that the finance minister is about to resign from his post. – The finance miister is thought to be about to resign from his post.

  1. It is expected that a spokesman will make an announcement later today.
  2. It is believed that more than a half of the population suffer from headaches.
  3. It is said that London is one of the most majestic cities in the world.
  4. It is thought that at least seventy people have been injured as a result of the explosion.
  5. It is expected that the economy will grow over the next six months.

Task 3. You are a TV newsreader. Use the following pieces of gossip to prepare an official news report about a famous actress. Be careful to distance yourself from the people’s claims using passive reporting structures.

Example: She’s close to a nervous breakdown because the paparazzi follow her everywhere. – Actress Blanche Devoy was said to be close to a nervous breakdown last night.

  1. Blanche doesn’t have any real friends, only people who want to be famous like her.
  2. Her husband Jet left her last week and she was seen dancing in a club last night with another man.
  3. Jet’s going to file for divorce and Blanche won’t have anything left after she’d paid the lawyers.
  4. The box-office takings of her new film were very poor and her career is in ruins.

Task 4. Rewrite each sentence so that the meaning stays the same.

Example: People think that neither side wanted war. – Neither side is thought to want war. 

  1. People say that fewer than 1,000 blue whales survive in the southern hemisphere. – Fewer …
  2. Everyone knows that eating fruit is good for you. – Eating fruit …
  3. People consider that one in three bathing beaches is unfit for swimming. – One in three bathing beaches …
  4. At least 130,000 dolphins are reported to be caught in the nets of tuna fishes every year. – It is …
  5. It is estimated that in the past 15 years about 10 million dolphins have been killed. – About 10 million dolphins …
  6. In ancient Greece people thought dolphins were men who had abandoned life on land. – In ancient Greece it …
  7. In ancient Rome it was believed that dolphins carried souls to heaven. – In ancient Rome dolphins …
  8. People say that the company invested fifty million pounds last week. – The company …
  9. People say Mr. Clark was difficult to work with when he was younger. – Mr. Clark …
  10. Someone has calculated that the water in the River Rhine contains over 2,000 chemicals. – It …
  11. Everyone thought that the painting had been destroyed in the fire. – The painting …
  12. It is believed that the Chinese invented gunpowder. – The Chinese …
  13. About one million newspapers are thought to have been sold. – People …
  14. It is thought that the two injured men were repairing high-tension cable. – The two …
  15. We hope that the government has prepared a plan. – The government …
  16. People say that Mr. Bond was having business difficulties when he was charged with fraud. – Mr. Bond  …
  17. It is thought that this treasure dates from the 19th century. – This treasure …
  18. People believe that a professional thief stole the painting. – It …

Task 5. Rewrite the following sentences using seem / appear.

  1. The police suspect that two children have gone missing. – It seems that two children have gone missing. / Two children seem to have gone missing.
  2. I think she is busy.
  3. I think that she is a strict disciplinarian.
  4. The police suspect that he has a criminal background.
  5. There is a mistake with the bill.
  6. The car isn’t there.
  7. He is learning how to get things done.
  8. Brazil expects to win the World Cup.
  9. She wears the trousers in that marriage.
  10. You are avoiding me.
  11. Tragedy runs in that family.

Task 6. Choose the correct answer.

  1. Now would seem that it is / to be a good time to discuss this.
  2. It appears that there is / to be more than one person involved.
  3. Women are believed to be / that they are better at multitasking.
  4. It is understood / hoped that you’ll reconsider your decision soon.
  5. Manchester United are believed to have appointed / to appoint a new manager.
  6. It / There is said that no news is good news.
  7. Jones is agreed / reported to have signed the new deal.
  8. It is apparent / Apparently, technology saves us time.
  9. According to me / him, time management is a waste of time.
  10. Your theory might / must be true, but I’m not sure.

Task 7. Distancing expressions for advanced English conversation.

  1. According to one of your colleagues, you’re one of the biggest gossips in this company (or school – if teenager)
  2. There are rumours that it might rain today, what do you think?
  3. Apparently, you’re the most intelligent person in your family. What do you think?
  4. Someone in the class said that you may change jobs by this time next year. Is that you want to do?
  5. There are said to be more Chinese bars than Spanish ones in Barcelona? Why do you think that the Chinese community favour this type of business?
  6. There are believed to be more male drug addicts than female. Why do you think men are more prone to addiction?
  7. There are thought to be more than 10,000 interest groups in Washington. Do you think that special interest groups are a threat to democracy? Why/why not?
  8. You are understood to be very dissatisfied with your current accommodation. Is this true?
  9. My British friend is expected to pay for the birthday cake on his birthday because this is the Spanish custom, however in the UK it is the friends who buy the cake. Which is the better custom in your opinion?
  10. It is said that the English language has more words than the Spanish? What do you think and which do you find to be the most descriptive language?
  11. People say that Gracia is the best neighbourhood to live in in the center of Barcelona.Do you agree?
  12. It would seem that we’re all having difficulty with the advanced grammar. What can we do – as a class – to improve it?
  13. It would appear that Michael Jackson did some very very bad things. Does that affect your enjoyment of his music?
  14. It’s been reported by some newspapers that coffee is good for you and by others that it’s bad? What do you feel – deep down – is the truth?
  15. According to Fox News, the world is a better place because Trump is president. What do you think? Why/why not?
  16.  It is said that vaccinations are bad for children’s health. Do you believe this or do you think that it’s a conspiracy theory?
  17. It would appear that North Korea has nuclear weapons. Does this disturb your sleep? Are you worried about a nuclear apocalypse?
  18. Interest in history is said to be declining. Do you like studying history and why do you think it’s important or unimportant?
  19. It is said that depression is much more common in our generation than our parents. Do you agree and why do you think this is/is not the case?
  20. There are said to be more and more men who use male makeup (The Guardian 2018/oct/13). Do you think this is good or bad?