In this English language grammar lesson, we further our understanding of adverbs and their use when discussing probability in everyday English conversations. Today we will hear about the contrast between terms such as certainty and probably, and communicating with others using the English language by getting comfortable with probabilities.
Why probability? Well, English speakers (I guess everyone) need the ability to communicate estimates of the chance of something happening in the future. Talking about certainty and uncertainty is commonplace, and it’s important to understand the implications of what’s being said.
This English podcast lesson will focus on the differences between good and bad odds of future events and how their usage fits into everyday English conversation. We will talk through the typical English adverbs used to communicate zero probability all the way to the best case. Listening to this podcast will leave you
with a good chance of understanding "How likely something is"
Life is a school of probability.
⭐ Walter Bagehot, Author
English speakers often use words and phrases when speaking about the likelihood of things happening, “odds,” and the chances of certain events. The words probability, chance and odds are constantly being used in everyday English language, and it means different things in different contexts.
You may want to know the probability of something happening in the future, such as finding money on the ground. Or you can ask someone what his or her probability of something is, like wanting to know how likely he or she thinks it might rain today. The words and phrases we’ll cover in this English language podcast lesson will be helpful when you want to make an estimation or understand the implications of another person's estimation of the future.
Probability Estimation Chance Odds Implications Obvious Potential Certainly Definitely
Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English.
How about today we spend some time on adverbs? And perhaps more specifically ‘adverbs of probability’. Let me explain what I mean by that. Firstly an adverb, ADVERB – that’s a part of English grammar. And ‘an adverb’ is a word which is used to describe a verb.
So an adverb gives more information about a verb. So I could say ‘He went down the street’ – that gives you some information. But if I say ‘He went quickly down the street’, that gives you even more information. The word ‘quickly’ is the adverb and it describes the verb, ‘how he went’. So that’s adverbs. Let me be your English grammar guide.
So what about ‘adverbs of probability’? Well, ‘probability’ is a noun in English, PROBABILITY. And ‘probability’ means how likely is it that something will happen? It’s useful for you to learn about the different adverbs that we use all the time to indicate ‘probability’.
A photograph of a boy feeding his Labrador puppy on grass. English grammar - Using English adverbs for probability.
Children are sometimes very sensitive to this – ‘Can I have a puppy?’, ‘Can we go to the cinema at the weekend?’, ‘Can my bedtime be later?’ And depending upon how the parent answers, the child has a good sense of how likely something is to happen. And the child’s sense of how likely their request is to be met probably comes from what adverb, what ‘adverb of probability’ the parent uses when they reply.
Just pausing here for a reminder of Course One, Activate your Listening. If you want to improve your English conversation, this course will help you get more comfortable with conversation. You hear English conversation and then there is a separate recording where I go through each sentence and explain it.
Then you listen again to that conversation, but with complete understanding this time. This really helps with your understanding of spoken English. So check out Course One Activate your Listening on our courses page at adeptenglish.com.
So adverbs of probability? There is a range – there are words we use to indicate ‘the degree of likelihood’ – how likely is something to happen? It goes something like this – ‘never’ or ‘extremely unlikely’ through to ‘definitely’. So ‘never’, NEVER is the most unlikely adverb. And you might hear someone say ‘Never in a million years is that going to happen. That is an absolute no’. ‘Never’ is short for ‘not ever’. The chances here are 0% perhaps!
So ‘extremely unlikely or ‘unlikely’, UNLIKELY means that the chances are low, it’s not likely to happen. ‘We are unlikely to buy a dog, until we move house’.
Similarly, you might use ‘probably not’ – so again, this indicates that it’s much less than a 50% likelihood that something will happen. ‘We will probably not go on holiday abroad until next summer’. ‘You are probably not going to be allowed to stay up to 10 o’clock on a school night’. That last one was to my 13 year old son recently.
Then there are a number of ‘adverbs of probability’ which position the likelihood in the middle. Perhaps it’s 50-50 whether something happens or not. So there’s an example ‘perhaps’, PERHAPS. That’s one. It leaves the possibility open – it could go either way. ‘Can we go to the cinema this weekend?’, ‘Perhaps’ – this means that it’s being left open. The cinema this weekend – it might happen, it might not.
A similar level of likelihood is ‘maybe’. This is an adverb and obviously formed originally from the part of the verb ‘may be’. ‘Maybe we’ll go to a restaurant this evening’. Or ‘Maybe you will like this film’. Still another one, which is probably showing the same degree of likelihood ‘potentially’, that’s POTENTIALLY. Potential, POTENTIAL is a noun – and if something ‘has potential’, that means we see encouraging, positive possibilities for it. A house or a flat might be said to ‘have potential’, if you think you could make a nice home out of it. It’s not nice now, but it could be made nice – it ‘has potential’ and the adverb is ‘potentially’.
Then slightly further up the scale of likelihood, we have ‘possibly’. If something is ‘possible’ – that’s the adjective – it means ‘you can do it’, ‘it could happen’. In my estimation, if someone says ‘Possibly we will go to the beach this afternoon’ – in my head, that suggestion has a likelihood that’s more than 50%. It’s the use of the words ‘possible’ or ‘possibly’ - it’s probably got my expectation raised when someone says that. So that’s more than 50%.
A really good adverb for indicating that the chances of something happening are greater than 50% - well, we’d use ‘probably’, PROBABLY, so obviously the adverb that goes with the noun ‘probability’. And the adjective is ‘probable’. ‘So I am probably going to go shopping this evening’ – that’s the adverb – then it means that the chances are greater than 50%, but it’s not 100% certain.
It’s more like 75(%). And the word I’m using all the time, ‘likely’ – that’s probably around 75% as well, Not certain, but definitely possible. And you can say ‘very likely’ and ‘extremely likely’ if you want to move it further up that scale of ‘likelihood’.
Another ‘adverb of probability’ when we’re talking about the future anyway, is the adverb ‘obviously’, OBVIOUSLY. Now this one has a slightly different meaning. There’s the adjective ‘obvious’ and the adverb ‘obviously’. These patterns in English by the way, are quite predictable as an element of English grammar.
You usually just put an -LY on the end of the adjective and there you are, you’ve got an adverb. Wonderful!. So if something is ‘obvious’, it means ‘it shows itself to be such’, it’s easy to see, you can see that it is the case – it’s obvious.
For example, you might say, ‘My sister was obviously upset when she heard the news’. This means that when my sister heard the news, her upset, her emotion, her reaction was obvious, everyone could see it. ‘Obviously’, means ‘it’s true because you can see it’.
That may not always be the case when you’re talking about the future – but that adverb means that ‘I think that this is the thing that’s most likely to happen’. ‘Obviously she’s going to get that job’. I’m giving it a high degree of probability. Another slightly less certain adverb ‘apparently’ – or the adjective ‘apparent’.
With ‘apparent’ and ‘apparently’, you’re saying ‘it seems to be the case, though it’s not 100% certain’ – whereas if you use ‘obvious’ or ‘obviously’, you’re saying that ‘it clearly must be the case, surely that’s what’s going to happen. I’m unlikely to be wrong!’.
Then we come to the ‘adverbs of possibility’ which are firmly at the high end. Adverbs like ‘certainly’, CERTAINLY or ‘definitely’, DEFINITELY are at the top end of probability. ‘We are definitely going to buy a kitten in the autumn’. That’s something that’s hard to go back on – you’ve made promise there! Or ‘We are certainly not going to move house this year’. That statement means No, it’s not going to happen, at least not this year.
Just watch the spelling of ‘definite’ and ‘definitely’. The misspelling, DEFINATELY is so common, it was actually part of the story line in British crime drama ‘Line of Duty’. That’s a good series, if you have access to it. The misspelling of this word became part of the plot, part of the story line at one point. There are six series of ‘Line of Duty’ to watch and each episode makes you want to watch the next one.
Other words which tend to indicate certainty – ‘absolutely’ or ‘undoubtedly’ or one which is popular with younger people – they’ll say ‘Mmmm, 100 percent’ – meaning ‘I’m definitely, certainty, absolutely, undoubtedly, 100% going to do this thing’!
Anyway, there’s a rundown of ‘adverbs of probability’ – something to be on the look out for, when you’re listening to English language. These adverbs are just so common – we use them all the time! Adept English where you can learn English grammar online and where we help you arrive at perfect English grammar.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.