Recognizing Objective and Subjective Language

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify objective language.
  • Identify subjective language.

Understanding objective and subjective language and the difference between the two helps you to make good judgments about information you hear and read.

ObjectivePoint of view where the writer is non-biased. Information is based on facts as opposed to personal feelings or opinions. The writer displays no tendency toward a preference. This style of writing is seen as more credible than a biased viewpoint. language focuses on the plain factsA piece of information that can be proven. Something that is true and indisputable. about a person or object—what is true and what can be proven. For example, consider this statement from a politician seeking reelection: "I have served two terms in the United States Senate, and I am endorsed by twenty-five of my fellow senators." It is clear that this statement contains objective language, because checking the facts will prove that the candidate did serve two terms as a legislator (lawmaker) and is indeed endorsed by twenty-five colleagues.

Another example may be found in a shampoo commercial. Consider this statement: "This brand of shampoo does not contain petroleum products and is not tested on animals." The language in this statement is objective and focuses on facts that can be proven about this particular brand of shampoo. One could test a sample of the shampoo to find out whether it contains petroleum products, or one could investigate the processes used by the company in making the shampoo to find out whether animals are used in testing.

Objective language is often used in these types of publications:

In contrast, subjectiveWording that shows a writer's feelings or opinions. For example, words such as feel, believe, and think are obvious signs that a writer is being subjective. language focuses on the attitudes, values, thoughts, feelings, or beliefs of the person who is doing the writing or speaking. Subjective language reveals the perspectiveThe point of view from which an author considers a subject or issue. of the writer and may not accurately describe the traitsThe specific parts of a person, place, or thing that distinguish it from another. of the object. The message of subjective language cannot be proven or measured. This kind of language contains judgments, interpretations, evaluations, or opinionsPoint of view that shows a personal belief or bias and cannot be proven to be completely true..

The following words might be clues that someone is using subjective language:

Consider the candidate running for reelection in the example above. If the candidate says, "While I was senator, I passed important legislation (laws)" and "I am endorsed by senators who are the best legislators in our country," the candidate is using subjective language. One cannot prove that the legislation passed by the candidate was important, nor can it be proven that the candidate's sponsors are the best legislators.

Commercials and advertisements often use subjective language in an effort to persuade consumers to purchase products. In the case of the shampoo, the language of a commercial becomes subjective when it promises that the shampoo will leave the consumer with beautiful hair or that it is made of the finest ingredients. Beautiful and finest are words that evaluate the product and that express an opinion. One cannot prove that hair is beautiful or that the ingredients are the finest.

Let's look at some other examples of objective and subjective language, using the pain reliever acetaminophen as an example.

  1. Acetaminophen is sold over the counter as a pain medication.

Objective language: This is a fact that can be proven. There are no evaluating words in this statement.

  1. Acetaminophen is the most dangerous over-the-counter pain medication.

Subjective language: The words most dangerous evaluate acetaminophen, but one cannot prove that acetaminophen is the most dangerous of all over-the-counter medications.

  1. A 2013 episode of This American Life presented a number of studies that verified that acetaminophen has killed more people than any other over-the-counter pain medication.

Objective language: There is no language in this statement that suggests evaluation or opinion. The statement describes information that was discussed on a radio show; the studies proved that acetaminophen is responsible for a higher number of deaths than any other over-the-counter pain medication. These are facts that can be proven either true or false.

  1. In the This American Life episode on acetaminophen, one segment described the tragic death of a five-month-old baby and thus should convince listeners that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) must take immediate action.

Both subjective and objective language: The episode included a segment on the death of a baby; this is objective and can be proven. However, the words tragic and should express the belief of the writer and cannot be proven. These are subjective statements.