Japanese basic grammar topic Expressing various levels of certainty

Various degrees of certainty

In general, Japanese people don't assert themselves of something unless they are absolutely sure that it is correct. This accounts for the incredibly frequent use of 「~と思う and the various grammatical expressions used to express specific levels of certainty. We will go over these expressions starting from the less certain to the most certain.

Using かもしれない to express uncertainty

Vocabulary

1.    多分 た・ぶん - perhaps; probably

2.    映画 えい・が - movie

3.    観る み・る (ru-verb) - to watch

4.    かれ - he; boyfriend

5.    学生 がく・せい - student

6.    それ - that

7.    面白い おも・し・ろい (i-adj) - interesting

8.    先生 せん・せい - teacher

9.    退屈 たい・くつ - boredom

10.  食堂 しょく・どう - cafeteria

11.  行く い・く (u-verb) - to go

12.  あめ - rain

13.  試合 し・あい - match, game

14.  中止 ちゅう・し - cancellation

15.  なる (u-verb) - to become

16.  この - this abbr. of これの

17.  映画 えい・が - movie

18.  ~回 【~かい - counter for number of times

19.  こと - event, matter

20.  ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)

21.  あそこ - over there

22.  代々木公園 よ・よ・ぎ・こう・えん - Yoyogi park

23.  もう - already

24.  逃げる に・げる (ru-verb) - to escape; to run away

かもしれない is used to mean "maybe" or "possibly" and is less certain than the word 多分. It attaches to the end of a complete clause. For noun and na-adjective clauses, the declarative 「だ」 must be removed. It can also be written in kanji as かも知れない and you can treat it the same as a negative ru-verb (there is no positive equivalent) so the masu-form would become かもしれません. In casual speech, it can be abbreviated to just かも. There is also a very masculine version かもしれん, which is simply a different type of negative verb.

Expressing uncertainty with かもしれない

·     Simply attach かもしれない or かも知れない to the clause
Examples

1.    映画を観たかもしれない

2.    彼は学生かもしれない

3.    それは面白いかもしれない

·     Noun and na-adjective clauses must not use the declarative 「だ」
Examples

1.    先生かもしれない → 先生かもしれない

2.    退屈かもしれない → 退屈かもしれない

·     It can be abbreviated to just かも in casual speech
Example

1.    面白いかもしれない → 面白いかも

Examples

1.    スミスさんは食堂に行ったかもしれません
Smith-san may have gone to the cafeteria.

2.    雨で試合は中止になるかもしれない
The game may become canceled by rain, huh?

3.    この映画は一回観たことあるかも
I might have already seen this movie once.

4.    あそこが代々木公園かもしれない
That might be Yoyogi park over there.

5.    もう逃げられないかもしれん
Might not be able to escape anymore, you know.

Using でしょう to express a fair amount of certainty (polite)

Vocabulary

1.    多分 た・ぶん - perhaps; probably

2.    明日 あした - tomorrow

3.    あめ - rain

4.    学生 がく・せい - student

5.    これ - this

6.    どこ - where

7.    行く い・く (u-verb) - to go

8.    休む やす・む (u-verb) - to rest

9.    いただく (u-verb) - to receive; to eat; to drink (humble)

でしょう is used to express a level of some certainty and is close in meaning to 多分. Just like 「~です/~ます, it must come at the end of a complete sentence. It does not have any other conjugations. You can also replace 「~ですか with 「~でしょうか to make the question sound slightly more polite and less assuming by adding a slight level of uncertainty.

Examples

1.    明日も雨でしょう
Probably rain tomorrow too.

2.    学生さんでしょう
Are (you) student?

3.    これからどこへ行くんでしょう
Where (are you) going from here?

If you want to sound really, really polite, you can even add 「~でしょうか to the end of a 「~ます ending.

·         休ませていただけますでしょうか- May I receive the favor of resting, possibly?

Using でしょう and だろう to express strong amount of certainty (casual)

Vocabulary

1.    遅刻 ち・こく - tardiness

2.    する (exception) - to do

3.    時間 じ・かん - time

4.    ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)

5.    言う い・う (u-verb) - to say

6.    これ - this

7.    食べる た・べる (ru-verb) - to eat

8.    行く い・く (u-verb) - to go

9.    掃除 そう・じ - cleaning

10.  手伝う て・つだ・う (u-verb) - to help, to assist

11.  くれる (ru-verb) - to give

12.  そう - (things are) that way

13.  どこ - where

14.  もう - already

15.  寝る ね・る (ru-verb) - to sleep

16.  1) うち; 2) いえ - 1) one's own home; 2) house

17.  帰る かえ・る (u-verb) - to go home

The casual equivalent of でしょう is surprisingly enough でしょう. However, when you are speaking in a polite manner, the でしょう is enunciated flatly while in casual speech, it has a rising intonation and can be shortened to でしょ. In addition, since people tend to be more assertive in casual situations, the casual version has a much stronger flavor often sounding more like, "See, I told you so!"

Example 1

A:あっ!遅刻しちゃう
A: Ah! We're going to be late!

B:だから、時間がないって言ったでしょう
B: That's why I told you there was no time!

Example 2

A:これから食べに行くんでしょ
A: You're going to eat from now aren't you?

B:だったら
B: So what if I am?

Example 3

A:掃除、手伝ってくれるでしょう
A: You're going to help me clean, right?

B:え?そうなの
B: Huh? Is that so?

だろう means essentially the same thing as でしょう except that it sounds more masculine and is used mostly by males.

Example 4

A:アリスはどこだ
A: Where is Alice?

B:もう寝ているだろう
B: Probably sleeping already.

Example 5

A:もう家に帰るんだろう
A: You're going home already, right?

B:そうよ
B: That's right.

 

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