Fact or Opinion?
Separating fact from opinion can be a difficult task. In this video, we will discuss the distinction between fact and opinion and offer some helpful tips for distinguishing between the two.
A fact is a statement that can be proven to be true by the use of evidence. Factual statements are true in all cases and for all people; in other words, facts are universal.
Some examples include:
- Dogs are mammals.
- Albany is the capital of New York.
- Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth.
Each of these statements is true. Furthermore, each statement is verifiable and not debatable, provided that definitions are agreed upon. Put simply, evidence exists that could potentially prove or disprove each claim.
Opinions, unlike facts, are neither true nor false. An opinion can express a belief, attitude, value, judgment, or feeling.
Some examples include:
- Dogs are the best mammals in existence.
- Albany is the most interesting city in New York.
- World War II was a terrible war.
Each of these statements expresses an opinion. Note that each is debatable. In other words, one can potentially agree or disagree with (debate) a statement of opinion.
Note that the final statement—“World War II was a terrible war”—strikes many of us as factual. However, this is a statement of opinion. Yes, most people would consider World War II terrible. However, there is always the possibility that somebody out there holds a different opinion, as strange as they may seem. It is very rare for a statement with a value word like “terrible” to be factual.
Facts vs. Opinions
Now that we know the differences between a fact and an opinion, it’s important to know how to distinguish between them when reading literature. Let’s look at some helpful strategies:
- Watch for opinion masked as fact: A lot of times professional or technical language can seem factual. In particular, you’ll want to watch out for predictions. Predictions are opinions since they cannot be verified in the present. This is even true if the prediction is being expressed by an expert with an informed opinion. A zoologist who predicts that a particular animal will go extinct in 50 years, for example, is stating an informed opinion. This opinion is based on evidence, research, and expertise, but because it cannot be presently confirmed, it is not a fact.
- Value or Judgment words often signal an opinion: “LeBron James is very tall” is a statement most people would agree with. However, the word very makes this problematic. What exactly does it mean to be “very tall”? It is not defined. What one person considers very tall, another may consider average or even short. The word very is an example of a value or judgment word. Here is a list of value and judgment words; if you see one of these in a statement, then the view being expressed is likely an opinion:
- Look for words like should or ought to: These words usually suggest a course of action or give advice. Though this advice may be advisable, it is rarely factual. No matter how much we agree with a “should” statement, it is by its very nature opinion. For instance, “One should avoid smoking cigarettes,” may be sound advice with a lot of supporting evidence, but it is still an opinion. “Smoking cigarettes can cause a variety of health ailments,” on the other hand, can be verified and is therefore factual.
In essence, facts can be verified by evidence, and opinions are statements of belief, attitude, value, judgment, or feeling.
Before we go, let’s look at a quick review question:
Which of the following statements is factual?
- Ohio is a beautiful state.
- You should never drive faster than the speed limit.
- George Washington was the 1st president of the United States.
- George Washington was a great public speaker.
This is the only option that can be backed up by evidence.
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!