Whenever I ask my clients what areas of English they would like to work on and improve during their course, the same answer comes back to me:
“I want to be able to have a social conversation in English with my colleagues/friends”
In other words, the key objective every learner of English has is to be able to use the English they’ve learned (grammar, vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation) in a social context. However, it’s not enough to have all the words and grammar and know how to put the sentences together correctly. You need to know how to use the language in context and in the appropriate way.
This is especially the case for the English language where there are many expressions you can use to mean the same thing. So, in addition to learning words, grammar, pronunciation and so on, an equally important area that language learners need to focus on is in acquiring life skills. These skills could include learning how to express an opinion, how to disagree diplomatically in English, how to ask for information or clarification in a business meeting or in a social context.
I’ve therefore decided to introduce in my blog a series on English Skills. The idea came to me after reading Macmillan Dictionary’s blog. They have introduced their Life Skills series and I think it’s a brilliant idea. I have unashamedly taken their idea and decided to adapt it to my own series. Thank you, Macmillan.
In today’s post, I want to look at the different ways we have in English to express uncertainty.
These two words are 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 in writing while maybe is used more in spoken English
- I wondered if perhaps he had changed his mind about attending the party.
- ‘When can you give me an answer?’ ‘I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow.’
2. Probably/possibly – these two words can confuse even native speakers
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 house prices are low, it’s probably because there is a lack of demand.
- ‘Would you consider moving to another country for your work?’ ‘Possibly, I’m not sure.’
is used when what you are saying is based on what you have heard, not on what you know is true and therefore fact
- Apparently, she resigned because she had an argument with her boss.
- There is, apparently, going to be an announcement about the new CEO tomorrow.
4. As far as I know/ as far as I am aware
these two expressions are used when you have partial (incomplete) knowledge of an issue or fact.
- No one has complained, as far as I know.
- As far as I am aware, the invitations to the party have all been sent.
5. To the best of my knowledge
This phrase is used for saying that you think something is true, but you are not completely certain. This is quite a formal expression
- To the best of my knowledge, no similar book has been published.
6. Not to my knowledge
This is used for saying that you think something is not true, although you are not completely certain:
- ‘Has the report been sent yet?’ ‘Not to my knowledge.’
7. I imagine/suppose/guess
These are used when you think something is probably true, but you can’t be sure. “Guess” is more frequently used in American English, although you can hear it in British English, too. “Suppose” is more characteristic of British English and is often used in the negative.
- I imagine they’ve already left for the airport.
- It’s difficult, I imagine, to keep the same enthusiasm for the job after 30 years.
- I suppose she must be delighted about getting the job.
- I don’t suppose you’d consider staying for another week?
- I guess he will want to meet all the team members before the conference.
Please do let me know if there are any other expressions that I haven’t included here.
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Ciao for now