Certainty and uncertainty: Activity 2

Rank the given examples in order from most certain to most uncertain, with most certain at the top and most uncertain at the bottom. Identify the words in the examples that help to convey certainty or uncertainty. Are they modal auxiliary verbs? Adverbs? Main verbs? What conclusions can you make about the way that individual word choices affect the certainty of expressions?

This may not be easy, and some examples may be debatable!

Compare your rankings with somebody else. Are there any areas of disagreement?


It’s possible that he will be here in time for the ceremony.
It’s likely that he will be here in time for the ceremony.
He will be here in time for the ceremony.

That girl is Tom’s sister.
That girl must be Tom’s sister.
That girl could be Tom’s sister.

It might have been Kate who thought of it.
It was Kate who thought of it.
It was probably Kate who thought of it.

They have already gone.
They have already gone, I think.
Perhaps they have already gone.

They said that.
They would say that.
They may have said that.

I will talk instead.
I might talk instead.
I may talk instead.

It must have been tricky.
It certainly was tricky.
I just don't know whether that was tricky.

It wouldn't have occurred to him.
It didn't occur to him.
It may not have occurred to him.

We will start again.
We will possibly start again.
We will probably start again.


Englicious is totally free for everyone to use!

But in exchange, we ask that you register for an account on our site.

If you’ve already registered, you can log in straight away.

Since this is your first visit today, you can see this page by clicking the button below.


Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-21 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Privacy | Cookies