Please take a look at the following: (from the Orion Magazine)

If possessing language is that which justifies our special status, then we must at least acknowledge it now looks likely that this wasn’t a Homo sapiens thing but a hominin thing.

I wonder what's the difference in tone and implication for the statement to use "must at least" or else "must" only?

If I understand correctly, "must" entail a sense of necessity, and "at least" means "at the minimum" which also suggests necessity. Does "must at least" basically mean the same as "must" and only differ in terms of the degree of emphasis?

Thank you very much for your help.

  • 1
    I think you’re in the right track that “at least” softens the sentence or lessens the emphasis. Without it, it sounds more like a command or strict requirement. The “at least” suggests there is more to be acknowledged, but let’s start with just this one fact about humans and language.
    – bertday
    Mar 30, 2021 at 4:46
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    "we must at least acknowledge" implies there is more we could do than simply acknowledge. For example, if you accidentally knock an old lady down you should at least apologize. I think the word-order is slightly wonky and what the author meant was "we must acknowledge it now looks at least likely that this wasn't a..." Mar 30, 2021 at 4:53

1 Answer 1


The author wrote must at least to mean that certainly we must acknowledge the claim starting with it now looks likely that… and maybe much more than that. Maybe, in addition to other hominin species possessing language (something we've long thought unique to our species), other animal species possess many other traits that we've long thought uniquely human: body ornamentation, representative art, rituals, teaching each other, tool use, and more—all covered later in the article.

When the author wrote must at least, she was pointing out the first item in that list of traits and promising to tell you more. Or, you could say, she was getting you to agree to this one point (that other hominin species could talk), to "soften you up" before introducing a whole lot of human traits in other species to get you to eventually agree that none of the major traits usually considered uniquely human are really unique to humans after all.

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