“Probably” is a word you’ll hear often in English. Americans in particular use this word in daily conversations. The meaning is “almost certain; most likely based on the current knowledge.” It’s similar to “maybe,” but with a little more assurance and commitment. Situations where you’d use “probably” as a response could include:
A friend asks you on Monday if you can go out on Friday night for dinner. You’re currently getting over a chest cold, but you think you’ll feel fine by Friday. Your answer, “Probably, but let’s talk on Thursday.” This tells your friend that you’d like to go and you believe you’ll feel better in time to join her; however, it is not a guarantee.
Your mom texts you to ask if you’ll be arriving at the airport by 4 PM. There have been flight delays on other airlines, but your flight is scheduled to depart on time. You text back, “Probably! We’re boarding now.” This tells your mom that you’re expecting your flight to arrive on time, but you can’t be absolutely sure.
“Probably” works in a lot of situations where you aren’t 100% sure of the answer. But perhaps you’re 80% – 90% sure. You could answer “probably” to any of the following questions.
- “Is it cold outside?”
- “Are there onions in the soup?”
- “Will the cat scratch me if I pet her?”
- “If I meet with tutors weekly on Cambly, will my English improve?”
You can also use “probably” as a statement about something you believe to be truthful or to have a high possibility of happening.
- “I’ll probably eat a second piece of cake”.
- “She’ll probably skip out before the end of the play.”
- “I’ll probably buy that jacket when I get paid.”
As useful as “probably” is, there are times when you want to use a different word, or more words to give clarity. In business situations, simply saying, “probably” can sound unsure and unprofessional. For example, your boss asks if the report you’re working on will be completed by the deadline. If you simply answer, “probably,” that may cause concern and look like you’re not interested in meeting the deadline.
In this situation, it’s best to give a more committed response such as, “I’m working on it now and expect to have it on time,” or “If all the information comes in from other departments, we should be on schedule.” Both of these answers are better than, “probably”, but they still have room for the unexpected to happen.
It’s best to remember that “probably” works in casual conversations with people you know; while more formal conversations or situations usually require more dialogue.
Author: Todra Payne, Cambly Tutor
If you’d like to keep this conversation going with Todra, give her a call on Cambly or make a reservation with her here: https://www.cambly.com/en/student/tutor/Todra%20P