Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and Cultural References

Certainty and doubt - Sure • Without a doubt • Beyond a shadow of a doubt • Wouldn't bet on it • To the best of my knowledge • Having second thoughts

Hello to everyone, and a special greetings to all of the new subscribers from ooLango! Welcome aboard! ooLango E-Learning is a Zoom-based language coaching school. Want real-time language coaching with native speaking teachers? Try it out!

Life can be confusing sometimes, so today I have a variety of sayings and idioms dealing with certainty and doubt. Also, I have a graphic on the strange way Americans write dates. 🇺🇸



Remember that Winning English is also available as a podcast. Here’s the link to this episode.


Sometimes in life we are certain that we are correct. Other times we are not certain. We have doubts. Here are a few different ways to express how much you think you are right.


Suppose someone asks you, “Are you sure (pronounced shurr) about this?” To be “sure” means the same thing as to be certain. And, in fact, you might get asked, instead, “Are you certain about this?”

There are are a few quick replies that you can use if you are certain you are right.

One, of course, is to simply say, “Yes.” But that’s so ordinary. Here are a few other choices to spice up your English.

Try out, “Absolutely”. When something is “absolute”, it is total. You are totally certain. “Are you sure?” “Absolutely.”

Building off of that example, you can respond, “Totally.” “Are you sure?” “Totally.” Note that “totally” is just a bit less formal than “absolutely”, though.

Another quick reply that’s also a bit less formal is “100%.” One hundred percent of something is all of it, of course. It’s the complete amount. In this case you believe you are completely correct.

That leads me to a fourth example. You can simply say, “Completely.”

Another example is “for sure”. This one is a bit different because “for sure” actually expresses agreement, rather than certainty. That is, it’s closer to meaning “yes” than to meaning “absolutely”. But it still gives a sense that you are very confident about saying yes. Think of it as an enthusiastic yes. Note that you need “for” before “sure” for this response to work.

Another, more advanced reply would be “without a doubt”. A “doubt” (pronounced dowt) is a reason to believe you are not right. If you don’t have any doubts, you believe you are correct. So, if someone asks, “Are you certain?” You can reply, “Without a doubt.”

There’s a slightly longer version of this response that expresses even greater certainty, “beyond a shadow of a doubt”. When you say this, you believe you are really, really correct. The idea here, I guess, is to think of a doubt as a physical object that could cast a shadow. If you were beyond - or away from - that shadow, you are not even close to having a doubt.


Now, we can only wish that life was so certain all the time. Instead, we often have doubts. There are many ways to express that, as well.

Like before, the simplest way to express doubt when someone asks, “Are you sure?”, is to simply answer, “No.” But again, that’s very ordinary. Let’s shake it up a bit.

There are a few quick replies you can use. You can say, “Not exactly.” Or “Not 100%”. Or “Not entirely.”

An additional quick reply that requires a complete sentence is, “I’m not sure.” Frankly, I’m not sure why “I’m not sure” requires you to add “I’m” to make a complete sentence when the others do not, but that’s the way we say it.

Now, there are some longer replies that express doubt and uncertainty, too.

First, you could say, “I wouldn’t bet on it.” This is somewhat informal, but also kind of fun. The idea is that you never want to lose a bet. Who wants to lose money, after all? So, if you were to place a bet on how sure you are, would you want to lose money if you are wrong?

Another answer you could give is “to the best of my knowledge”. The idea here is, given what facts you know - that is, your knowledge - you believe you are right, but new facts could prove that you are wrong. “Are you certain?” “To the best of my knowledge, yes.”

And finally, suppose you thought you were 100% correct before, but now you are having doubts. You can express that by answering, “I'm having second thoughts.” The idea is that your first thoughts on the subject were based on a certain set of facts or beliefs. But now you’ve gotten new information or perspective that has led you to doubt your first thoughts. Now you are having “second thoughts”.

Sometimes we use this phrasing as a way to indicate that we’ve changed our mind on a subject, too. In that case, we say, “On second thought…”, then give our new opinion. Note with this saying “thought” is singular, not plural.

You might already know this, but it’s worth a reminder. Unlike any other country in the world, Americans write their dates month/date/year.

People in most countries write their dates date/month/year, which - I have to admit - is more logical. After all, it goes from the smallest unit to the largest unit.

But that’s not how we do it in the US. It’s not clear why exactly, but apparently we inherited it from the British, who eventually adopted the other method while we stayed the same. I hate to think that we might be lazy! 😄

Thanks for being part of Winning English! Remember to like and share the posts with friends, family, and colleagues that might benefit from it. 🙏🏻

Also, follow us on LinkedInFacebook, and Instagram (on IG, search for “winning.english”).

Talk soon!