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Life skills tip of the week: ways of expressing uncertainty

Macmillan Life Skills: language is a life skillAs part of our pragmatics series, we bring more useful content and tips from the Macmillan Dictionary on expressing yourself.

The previous  language tip looked at ways of saying ‘I don’t know.



This week’s tip gives some ways of saying you think you know something but are not completely sure:

perhaps/maybe: used for saying that you are not certain about something, or that something may or may not be true. Perhaps is more formal and is used more in writing while maybe is used more in speech:
I wondered if perhaps he had fallen ill.
‘When can you give me an answer?’ ‘I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow.’

probably/possibly: probably is used for saying that something is likely to be true, and possibly that it may be true but you are not certain:
If prices are low, it’s probably because of lack of demand.
‘Would you consider moving to another country for your work?’ ‘Possibly, I’m not sure.’

apparently: used when what you are saying is based on what you have heard, not on what you are certain is true:
Apparently, she resigned because she had an argument with her boss.

As far as I know: used for saying what you think is true when you think that there may be facts that you do not know:
No one has complained, as far as I know.

To the best of my knowledge/recollection/belief: used for saying that you think something is true, but you are not completely certain. These are fairly formal expressions:
To the best of my knowledge, no similar book has been published.
To the best of my recollection, we’ve never met.

Not to my knowledge: used for saying that you think something is not true, although you are not completely certain:
‘Have the letters been written yet?’ ‘Not to my knowledge.’

I imagine/suppose: used for saying that you think something is probably true, but you can’t be sure:
I imagine they’ve left already.
It’s difficult, I imagine, to keep your interest alive after doing the job for 30 years.
I suppose she must be delighted about getting the job.

Would you like to learn more about pragmatics? Keep a close eye on our pragmatics page where the first of our life skills lesson plan was published last week. For more information about Life Skills, visit the Macmillan Life Skills page.

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Liz Potter

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