The future – degrees of certainty

Do you know how to use phrases like will definitely, be likely to and probably won't to say how sure you are about future events?

Look at these examples to see how we can express different degrees of certainty about the future.

I'll definitely be at the meeting, don't worry.
She's likely to say yes if you ask nicely.
It probably won't rain later according to the weather forecast.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: The future – degrees of certainty: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We can show how certain we are about the future by using modal verbs and other expressions.

Modal verbs and adverbs

We can use modal verbs (such as will, might, may or could) and adverbs (such as probably and definitely) to show how sure we are.

Very sure

People will definitely work from home more in the future.
Robots definitely won't replace all human jobs.

Sure

Donna will really enjoy this film.
You won't regret it.

Almost sure

We'll probably finish the project by tomorrow.
He probably won't have enough time.

Not sure

I might go to the party, but I'm not sure yet.
He hasn't studied much, so he might not pass the exam.

When you are not sure, we can also use may, could and may not. However, we don't usually use could not to talk about the future.

Other expressions

We can also use other expressions such as be bound to and be likely to, or verbs such as think and doubt.

Very sure

He's bound to feel nervous before his driving test.
She's certain to get that job!
He's certain that he'll get here on time.
There's no chance that we'll ever win the lottery.
There's no way that my boss will give me the day off. 

Sure

I'm sure that you'll do well in the interview.
Are you sure that you won't be available?

Almost sure

The government's likely to call an election soon.
Ali's unlikely to be invited to the party.
There's a good chance that it'll snow this week.
There's not much chance that I'll finish this essay tonight.
She thinks he'll be able to help.
I don't think we'll have petrol-based cars in the future.
I doubt they'll have any trouble finding the address.
What do you expect mobile phones will be like in ten years' time?

Not sure

There's a chance that she'll be back at work tomorrow.
There's a chance that he might come and visit us next week.
I think we might see more of these problems in the next few years.
I'm not sure that I'll be able to finish this pizza!

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: The future – degrees of certainty: 2

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Language level

B2 English level (upper intermediate)

Submitted by Marua on Wed, 23/03/2022 - 16:46

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Hello.
Are these sentences both correct?
1. I'm not exactly sure, but I think she will be home by 8 o'clock.
2. I'm not exactly sure, but I think she won't be home by 8 o'clock.
Are both verb forms 'will be' and 'won't be' grammatically correct?
Thank you.

Submitted by GrammarLover on Fri, 18/02/2022 - 19:52

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Hello LearnEnglish Team,

I am an English teacher and I would like to ask you something just to confirm I am right. I studied English many years and I have been teaching English for 13 years. This topic about degrees of certainty is a topic I have taught all these years but I have a tiny question about it. All grammar and text books I have always seen say what you say here.

When referring to future probability, they include the following expressions: "Subject + to be likely/unlikely + infinitive" or "it is likely/unlikely + that + clause" and "will probably+verb". So these are the expressions I have always taught and the answer key of ALL English text books includes these expressions but NO grammar explanation or answer key includes "it is probable + that + will". Therefore, I have always assumed as a student and, later, as a teacher of English that, in English, the natural way of saying what is probable is by using this expression with the word LIKELY (and not the word "probable"). I just would like to confirm that in English we use this expression with "likely", but not with the word "probable". For example "It is likely that the government will raise interest rates this year" (NOT "it is probable...") or "It is highly likely that the meeting is cancelled" (NOT "probable"). All English grammar books only give this expression with "likely", not with the word "probable". Just would like to confirm that what I teach is correct: that this expression is only used with the word "likely/unlikely". Many thanks in advance.

Hello GrammarLover,

 

Both likely and probable are possible. In fact, a wide range of adjectives and adjectival phrases can be used in this structure: likely, probable, distinctly possible, to be expected, odds-on, credible, plausible, within the bounds of possibility, imaginable; expected, anticipated, natural, predicted, foreseeable, ten to one; sure, destined, fated; in the wind, in the air; on the cards, a pound to a penny etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sara123_123 on Thu, 09/12/2021 - 06:18

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Hello sir,

I expect we might have to postpone the meeting.
I expect we will have to postpone the meeting.

Could you please explain which one is correct and why is that so ?

Hello sara123_123,

The second one is the better form to use. This is because the phrase 'I expect' already introduces the idea of probability, so we don't generally also use a modal of probability such as 'might' -- instead we normally use 'will'.

If you don't use 'I expect', then 'might' is fine: 'We might have to postpone' or 'I think we might have to postpone'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jaiime_edg on Thu, 29/10/2020 - 08:39

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Thanks is very useful

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 19:31

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Thanks!!!!!

Submitted by Working hard 2020 on Tue, 25/08/2020 - 22:01

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Are the following sentences correct? (1) She won't probably come to the party. (Here I applied the rule that adverbs of certainty must come before the main verb) (2) She probably won't come to the party. (It sounds more natural) Thanks in advance.

Hello Bruna Vignetti,

You are correct that the adverb usually comes before the main verb:

She'll probably come to the party.

He's usually at home now.

He clearly seemed the smartest person in class.

However, when the auxiliary is negative the adverb is often placed before it:

She probably won't come to the party.

He usually isn't at home now.

He clearly didn't seem the smartest person in class.

 

It is a complex issues, however. You can read more about it here:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/adverbs-and-adverb-phrases-position

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by OlaIELTS on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 06:48

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It's really helpful.

Submitted by strevochka on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 13:14

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You will be busy tomorrow, shan't you? May I ask so, if I want to make sure of something? It's correct?

Hello strevochka

Yes, that sentence would be a good way to ask someone to confirm that they will be busy the next day, though I would recommend using 'won't you' instead of 'shan't you' as a question tag. 'shan't you' is very, very formal and would sound strange in most situations.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by 83roman on Sat, 11/04/2020 - 18:54

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I think that we need to buy a new one. Is this corect ?

Submitted by Staciii on Mon, 09/03/2020 - 09:45

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Hello, would you please explaine the usage ofuch + chance (singular) as in your example: /There's not much chance that I'll finish this essay tonight./ Thanks in advance

Hello Staciii

This means the same thing as 'little chance'. The Longman Dictionary entry for 'chance' lists 'no chance', 'little chance' and 'not much chance' together (see the Adjectives section of the list of collocations).

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team