How to talk about money, amounts and time without being exact

A rough amount (Image: Pixabay)
Sometimes in business you don’t want to say exactly how much something costs or give a precise answer as to when a project or product, for example, will be ready. In situations like these we use words and phrases which give an approximate or rough idea, but without making a figure, time or amount explicit. Let’s look at some of these in detail:
 
Approximately 
This is the most obvious way of giving a less-than-exact number. 
 
Harrison’s employs approximately three hundred and fifty people.
 
Roughly 
This has the same meaning as “approximately” but it’s a bit more informal.
 
How many hairdryers can this factory produce per day?
– Roughly eight hundred.
 
Give or take, more or less
These expressions are only used when you’re speaking. They both mean “approximately”.
 
To set up our new retail outlet it cost around €200,000 give or take.
 
How long will it take to produce a prototype for the new engine?
– About six months, more or less.
 
“Give or take” and “more or less” are really good, informal English phrases that you can use to make your language sound more natural when you’re speaking. Another advantage of phrases like these is that they don’t change, so you can just drop them into a sentence without worrying too much about the grammar.
 
Some more idiomatic expressions for being vague or approximate:
 
Not to put too fine a point on it 
 
What’s the salary for this job?
– Well, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s between sixty to a hundred thousand per annum, but, it depends on your experience.
 
The phrase “not to put too fine a point on it” usually means “to speak plain / to be blunt” (i.e. to speak directly about something) but you sometimes hear it used to talk about vague amounts.
 
Another phrase we use is “around the (number) mark”:
 
How much profit did Tyler Tech make last year?
– Hm, it was around the two million mark.
 
Somewhere in the region of
If you say that something is “somewhere in the region of” plus a figure it means the price or value is around that amount:
 
How much do the owners want for this apartment?
– Er, somewhere in the region of one point two million pounds (£1.2m)
 
A ball park figure 
This is an American English expression. It means “an approximate” amount:
 
I can’t say exactly how much revenue this store would generate in the first two years, but a ball park figure would be around five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000).
 
Talking about approximate proportions
 
You can use these expressions to talk about a majority of something or the largest part:
 
The better / best part of 
 
That car set me back the best part of fifty thousand.
 
Note here that the phrasal verb “to set someone back” means “to cost” and, like most phrasal verbs, it’s an informal expression that you use when you’re speaking to someone you know quite well. Also, in this example, the speaker says “fifty thousand” without specifying the currency. If you’re in the UK, it’s usually obvious that you’re referring to pounds.
 
The lion’s share
This means “the largest part” or majority. 
 
Davidsons plc have acquired the lion’s share of the market for plastic Christmas trees. Two out of every three festive artificial trees are now supplied by the Bristol-based company.
 
Competitive, reasonable 
If you’re selling a product or service and you don’t want to give an exact price, for example in promotional advertising copy, you can use adjectives which suggest that your prices aren’t that high, but without saying how much you actually charge.
 
Our prices are very competitive.
 
We are sure that you will be 100% satisfied with our high quality, personal service at a very reasonable price.
 
Other ways of avoiding giving an exact answer or information 
 
If you can’t remember something exactly and don’t want to tell someone something specific, which might later prove to be inaccurate, you can use the expression “off the top of my head“:
 
What’s the retail price of the Super De Luxe Edition of these cufflinks?
– Hm, off the top of my head it’s around £790, but I can give you the exact figure later, if that’s OK.
 
Don’t quote me on that 
If you tell someone a fact or give someone information which you’re not sure is accurate, you can say “Don’t quote me on that”. This expression comes from journalism or writing where quotes or comments are attributed to a speaker.
 
If we decided to sell this company, we would be looking at a figure of around three hundred million pounds (£300m) – but don’t quote me on that.
 
Combining expressions 
In practice, we often combine several of these expressions in a single sentence or conversation:
 
Mark Yates: So, if we were interested in buying five hundred mountain bikes from you, how much are we looking at?
Sally Lanchester: Well, I can certainly offer you the best price. It’ll be somewhere in the region of three hundred thousand.
Mark: Is that including VAT?
Sally: No, that’s ex-VAT.
Mark: I see. And when can you deliver by?
Sally: Well, without putting too fine a point on it, it’ll be around the six week mark, give or take a week. 
Mark: OK, that’s really interesting.
Sally: I can send you an exact quote with all the figures by email.
Mark: Oh, yes. That would be great.