Grammar | Degrees of Certainty

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What is this episode about?

Learn about the different modal verbs you can use to express different degrees of certainty in this new Grammar episode from English Plus Podcast.

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Show Notes

Disclaimer

I am using an automatic transcript service as it is not possible for me to do it on my own and I cannot afford human transcription at the moment. The service claims to have about 95% accuracy, which means there will still be some mistakes, so my apologies for having a less than perfect transcript, but I hope I can afford human transcription soon and I will solve this problem. However, the service is pretty good, and the transcript is almost perfect.

Transcript

Welcome to a new episode from English plus podcast. Today’s episode is about grammar and we will focus on a very important and a very common thing you need. When you want to talk about certainty, how certain are you and how does that make any difference when you want to use modal verbs? Well, it makes a lot of difference.

[00:00:27] Some modal verbs refer to 95% sure. Some model verbs refer to 50% sure. Of course, all the percentages I’m going to give you in this episode are going to be approximate. But the important thing is we’re going to talk about degrees of certainty and the model verbs we can use when we want to express different degrees of certainty.

[00:00:49] So without further ado, let’s start, let’s answer a very simple question. John didn’t come to class and somebody’s asking why isn’t John in class. Now the first obvious thing is when we know why John isn’t in class, we know that he is sick. If you know, that means a hundred percent sure. And here we’re not talking about degrees of certainty at all.

[00:01:12] We know when you know something. You don’t have to use any model verb. You just say, he is sick, no modal verbs are needed. And it is actually important to use something like verb to be here, because you want to tell the other person that you’re not making a guess here. You are telling the other person what you actually know.

[00:01:33] So it’s a hundred percent sure. And that means. You know, he is sick, but the important thing about our episode today is to learn how to express the degrees of certainty when you don’t know. But you’re almost sure you know, that he is probably sick. So it’s something like 95% sure. Which modal verb can you use to express that?

[00:01:56] You can say he must be sick, must expresses a strong degree of certainty, but it is still less than a hundred percent because remember, you don’t know, even when you use must, you’re kind of saying probably John is sick. I have evidence to make me believe that he is sick. That is my logical conclusion, but I don’t know for certain, I am leaving this 5% because I am not certain.

[00:02:22] That’s why I use, he must be sick. And remember, we’re talking about present time right now, as we go along this episode, we will talk about the past time and the future time. But for now let’s stick to the present time. What if you’re not that sure. What if you’re trying to say, well, maybe, possibly John is sick.

[00:02:43] I’m only making a guess. I can think of other possibilities, but this is one of them. He may be sick. He might be sick. He could be sick if you’re kind of like 50, 50, you’re 50% sure. Or even less you can use may, might or could. So here, you can say he may be sick. He might be sick or he could be sick. And here, I want you to notice that when we say he may be sick, we’re talking about two words here, may and be, because these are two verbs.

[00:03:17] One is a model verb. The other verb is the main verb. But we can use may be as one word and we use it at the beginning. For example, we can say maybe he is sick. If you use maybe this way, this is an adverb. And that’s why it is one word. So let me just recap. Degrees of certainty in the present time. If you know, for sure you don’t use any model verb, you just say he is sick.

[00:03:43] If you are 95%. Sure. You say he must be sick. If you’re 50% sure or even less, you can use may, might or could, you can say he may be sick. He might be sick or he could be sick. So that is about degrees of certainty in the present time. But what about if we want to talk about it and negative? Does it make any difference?

[00:04:03] It should be as simple as just put must in the negative form may, might and could in the negative form. Right. It should be as simple as that. And it is kind of like that, but it doesn’t work with all the model verbs. So we have to go through them again. For example, could. Is 50% sure or less if we use it in affirmative, but if you use it a negative, it’s like 99% sure.

[00:04:26] He couldn’t be sick. So to make sure we know the differences, let’s talk about degrees of certainty in the present time, but this time in negative. Well, let’s talk this time about Sam and let’s say if he is, or he is not hungry, what if you say Sam, isn’t hungry. What is the degree of certainty here? Well, obviously you’re talking about something that you are a hundred percent sure of when you say Sam, isn’t hungry.

[00:04:51] You’re not making any kind of speculation, or you’re not guessing you’re saying what you know. So remember when, you know, you don’t use any of the model verbs that we talked about, or the ones that we will talk about. Those are only used for degrees of certainty. If you are not a hundred percent sure if you are a hundred percent sure you don’t use any model verb, you just use verb to be, for example, you say Sam isn’t hungry, but of course that’s not what we’re here for.

[00:05:19] We’re here to learn about degrees of certainty and we will focus now on present time. Negative. What if you are 99%. Sure. What if you believe that there is no possibility that Sam is hungry, but you’re still not a hundred percent sure you still don’t know, but you’re pretty sure that he is not hungry.

[00:05:38] When you want to express an idea like this, you can use could not, or can not. Or of course, usually we say couldn’t or can’t so we can say, Sam couldn’t be hungry or Sam can’t be hungry. It’s like, you’re saying it’s impossible. Well, it’s not because you’re still living this 1% that it might be the other way round, but you’re pretty sure that he is not hungry.

[00:06:04] So you say Sam couldn’t be hungry or Sam can’t be hungry. What if you are 95% sure. Well, that is just like must in affirmative. You can say must not in negative. You can say Sam must not be hungry and must not here. We’re not talking about obligation or something. No, we’re just talking about the degree of certainty and here it’s a pretty high degree.

[00:06:26] So here you’re expressing a logical conclusion, a best guess, but again, we come to the 50% sure or less. We can use here may or might, but not could remember when we use it in affirmative. We said that we can say he may be hungry. He might be hungry or he could be hungry, but if you want to use it in negative, yes.

[00:06:48] You can still say he may not be hungry and that’s 50% sure or less maybe yes, maybe no. Or he might not. Be hungry, but you can’t say he could not be hungry for this meaning he could not be hungry that you’re 99%. Sure. And here you can ask a question. How can I tell the difference between 99% sure. And 95% sure.

[00:07:12] Uh, is there a kind of measurement where I can know? Well, obviously not, this is all an estimate and you might say, why don’t we say that couldn’t mustn’t and can’t are just the same. Well, they’re kind of the same, to be honest, but I’m just saying here that can’t and couldn’t are a little bit stronger than mustn’t.

[00:07:30] That’s all what you need to know. So with that being said, We talked about degrees of certainty in the present time, both in affirmative and negative. Let me just remind you present time in negative. If you’re a hundred percent sure. Again, you don’t need any model verbs. You just say Sam, isn’t hungry. If you’re 99%.

[00:07:46] Sure you say Sam couldn’t be hungry or can’t be hungry. 95%. Sure you say Sam must not be hungry or mustn’t be hungry or 50% or less. You say, Sam may not be hungry or might not be hungry. So now let’s move on to talk about degrees of certainty in the past. But before we do that, let me remind you that you can find the transcript of this episode on our website, English plus podcast.com.

[00:08:11] You can find the link in the description, take the link. When you go there, you will find a lot of extra activities. And here, maybe I should say, because I got feedback the other day and they were complaining that they could not find interactive activities in this specific link that I told them about.

[00:08:26] Well, actually, we don’t put interactive activities for every single episode. We put interactive activities, mainly for word power episodes. We add a PDF downloadable worksheets for some episodes, we have transcripts for all of the episodes. So just to make things clear, we have extra activities, interactive activities.

[00:08:46] PDF downloadable worksheets and transcripts, but not all of them with every single episode, with some episodes, we add interactive activities with some other episodes. We add PDF downloadable worksheets with some episodes, we have all of these together, but the thing for sure that with every single episode, we create a custom post on our website, English plus podcast.com.

[00:09:07] And you can find the link that will take you to this custom post in the description of the episode. You will find extra stuff that will help you improve your English. It depends on the episode type basically. Now, before we continue to talk about degrees of certainty in the past and the future. Let me also tell you that you can become a patron of English plus podcast that will help us a lot to create more content and reach more people and great things coming to our patrons.

[00:09:34] We are creating premium lessons, interactive videos, and a lot of great stuff, which I will be talking about in more detail in the episodes to come. But if you become our patrons on Patreon, you will support us. And that’s a great thing, but you will also get great premium content that will help you improve your English.

[00:09:51] So that being said, let me move back and talk about degrees of certainty in the past time. And in the future. So we talked about degrees of certainty in the present, both affirmative and negative. How about degrees of certainty in the past now? What if I want to talk about Mary this time and she wasn’t in class and here again, if you know, for sure if you know, and that’s not a guess, if you know, you just use was, which is the best of verb to be, she was sick.

[00:10:19] You know it, when you say she was sick, there is no speculation. There is no guessing. It is the fact. You know it, so she was sick, but what if you don’t know, but you’re making a logical conclusion because you know, you saw Mary yesterday and found out that she was sick and you assume that this is the reason why she was absent.

[00:10:38] You can’t think of any other good reason. What model verb do you use? You can say she must have been sick. Now she must be, she must have been sick. So must is used again, if you are 95% sure. Because you know, you have some facts, but you don’t know for sure. You don’t know it. You are making a guess, but you’re pretty sure of that guess.

[00:11:02] So you say must have been that’s the best, right? It’s not must be because that would be present. Must have been sick. What about if you want to express 50% sure or less? Well, it’s the same, like the present use may, might or could. But again, not may be, or might be, or could be. You have to use this form have been after the model verb when you use have, and past participle after the model verb, that means you’re talking about it in the past.

[00:11:33] So you say she may have been sick. She might have been sick or she could have been sick. Now sometimes you might not hear the have part because people might say she could have been sick, could have, or might have, or may have. So they kind of like make it short, especially in pronunciation, even if you don’t usually use contractions in writing, sometimes it’s speaking, people say that she could have been sick.

[00:11:58] So when you hear she could have been sick, that means she could have been sick. It’s still correct. And you can say it this way. If you can. No problem. She could have been sick. She might’ve been sick. Or she may have been sick. May have you see, it may have been sick may is I’m just saying have as may have been sick.

[00:12:16] All right. So people say that if you hear that, that’s still correct. They’re not making mistakes. They’re saying it right. She may have been sick. She might’ve been sick. She could have been sick. All right. So what about the negative? Is it the same? Like the present that, especially when it comes to, could, could here is 50% or less in affirmative.

[00:12:36] What about negative? Well, it’s also the same could not is 99%. Sure. So if we want to ask the same question again, why didn’t Sam eat? Of course, we talked about Sam in the present. We said he is not hungry. If you know it in the past, you say Sam was not hungry. That means, you know, it. The speaker is sure, because the speaker knows this is a fact what if you’re 99% sure.

[00:12:59] Here again, you can use couldn’t or can’t, but this time with have been not with be alone. So Sam couldn’t have been hungry or Sam can’t have been hungry. What about if you’re 95%? Sure. Well, you should have guessed it by now. Sam must not have been hungry. And for 50% sure or less, you say Sam may not have been hungry or Sam might not have been hungry.

[00:13:26] Well, the thing to remember here is the have been part, right? Because it’s exactly the same. Like we use it in the present time, negative, the same model verbs we use to talk about different degrees of certainty. But the different thing is the have been part. And that’s why I repeated what I said in the present.

[00:13:43] So with that being said, that leaves us with only one time to talk about. And that is the future. Well, the future is pretty much the same, like the present, but we have a couple of different models that we can use for 95% sure. Because we don’t use must here we use should or ought to. But first, what if, you know, if you know the thing, if you’re a hundred percent sure, what do you say we use will Kay will do well on the test.

[00:14:09] You feel sure about that? Of course here, you might argue that it is future time and nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future. And you’re right about that. But here, when you say Kay will do well on the test, that means you’re pretty sure about that. You feel sure of it if you’re almost sure you’re not a hundred percent sure.

[00:14:26] You’re 90% sure you use should or ought to. So you say, for example, K should do well on the test or K ought to do well on the test. Not must. All right. And what about the 50% sure or less? Well, that’s just like the present she may do well on the test. She might do well on the test or she could do well on the test.

[00:14:47] You might say, how can I tell if it is present or future? Well, that is left to the context of speaking. You can say, for example, she may do well on the test tomorrow, just to make sure everybody understands, you’re talking about the future, but you don’t have to. It is usually obvious through the context, you know, just so when you talk about something in the future, you don’t have to keep saying tomorrow or next week or whatever people will understand.

[00:15:10] But the thing is for 50% sure or less, you can use the same model verbs may, might could with the zero form. So you say she may do well, she might do well, or she could do well, with that being said, that’ll be all to talk about. Degrees of certainty, the different model verbs we use to talk about degrees of certainty.

[00:15:28] We talked about degrees of certainty in the present time, both affirmative and negative. We talked about degrees of certainty in the past time, also in affirmative and negative. And remember the have been part. And we talked about the degrees of certainty in the future time. So I hope you found the information I shared with you today useful, and don’t forget to take the link.

[00:15:46] that you will find in the description, go to our website, English plus podcast.com. You will find a lot of extra things that will help you take your English to the next level. With that being said, this is your host, Danny. Thank you very much for listening to another episode from English plus podcast. I will see you next time.

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