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definitely vs. certainly

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Sane, Feb 28, 2008.

  1. Sane Junior Member

    USA, English
    He will certainly (or definitely?) vote for Y.

    What are the differences between these words and their usage?
     
  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    They can be considered synonymous.
     
  3. xebonyx

    xebonyx Senior Member

    TR/AR/EN
    I think "definitely" has a more "end all" connotation to it(you have all the information, less subjective), so I wouldn't exchange the two so freely in all cases.

    "Wow, so she's definitely coming along with us on the trip?" :tick:
    "Wow, so she's certainly coming along with us on the trip?":cross: -Sounds awkward.

    "Can I use the bathroom now?"

    "You most certainly can!"(Affirmative. You are given permission).
    "You most definitely can!" (We know that you are able to use the bathroom). :cross:
     
  4. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Moderatös

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    I would use 'definitely' for something that will be true in the future, 'certainly' for something which is true now. See also Longman's explanation:
    There are more examples inside Longman's online dictionary if you search any of the above words, so do check them out!

    /Wilma
     
  5. Scherle

    Scherle Senior Member

    la ciudad de Angeles, Filipinas
    Filipino, and English
    Definitely:D
     
  6. Sane Junior Member

    USA, English
    Thanks.
    What I find interesting is that the dictionaries that I use (Random House College and Macmillan's New World College) do not put them together--one synonymous with the other. Not even the New World's big Thesaurus!
     
  7. mustang72 Senior Member

    Austin, TX
    Swiss German
    I use it as follows:

    definitely is something definite; beyond any doubts; 100 % likely
    whereas
    certainly is something certain; having no doubts; 99 % likely

    He will definitely vote for Y. - No way in hell he'll vote for someone else
    He will certainly vote for Y. - I wouldn't know why he'd vote for someone else
     
  8. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    In your original example sentence, they mean the same to me. The more idiomatic choice varies from sentence to sentence, as you can observe from the text quoted by "Wilma-Sweden."
     
  9. snorklebum

    snorklebum Senior Member

    Mexico
    Mexico English
    It would be very difficult to come up with a sentence in which these words wouldn't be interchangeable.
     
  10. Harry Batt

    Harry Batt Senior Member

    Minneapolis
    USA English
    Well, I think "certainly" has a ring of hope in it. Eg., We will leave in a hour and should certainly be in Detroit in the morning." If it is a 700 mile trip the listener is going to be doubtful. But, eg., "When Bill and I drive straight through, we can definitely make it to Detroit in 12 hours." The statement is backed up with fact.

    That is the only difference that I can recall at the moment; that definitely has the stronger meaning.
     
  11. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    There is no difference in meaning. Any difference in use is personal or regional preference.
     
  12. snorklebum

    snorklebum Senior Member

    Mexico
    Mexico English
    Exactly. And you can add "surely" to the list.
     
  13. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I wish the people who sense no difference would address themselves to xebonyx's examples in post 3:
    The words don't seem interchangeable here.

    There is a concessive force often in certainly which I don't sense in definitely.

    Can I stay up and watch the film on TV, Dad? Certainly you may.:tick:
    Can I stay up and watch the film on TV, Dad? Definitely you may.:cross:

    I put a cross by the second, not because it would be out of the question, but because I think it would be odder than the first from a father in these circumstances. To my ear certainly here suggests more the granting of permission where definitely is a statement of fact.
     
  14. domangelo Senior Member

    United States English

    I am not sure that these differences are of interest to anyone beyond the field of linguistics. I hear the differences you speak of in these examples, but I have a feeling that it is simply a matter of set phrases that we have become accustomed to hearing, rather than a real difference in meaning. If a non-native speaker of English were to speak the examples that you have crossed out, I would probably not even notice his choice, since I don't expect non-native speakers to necessarily use the same "set phrases" that a native speaker uses.
     
  15. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Two points, domanagelo,

    1. I don't think, if we were only dealing here with 'set phrases', the difference would be of much interest to a student of linguistics.

    2. I don't think we are only dealing with 'set phrases' here. The differences are there, it seems to me, in xebonyx's examples in post 3, which aren't 'set phrases', and which people have been strangely reluctant to take into account:


    These examples seem to me to illustrate the same difference I was drawing between the different words in the imaginary father's answer, though I'm not sure it's quite the point being made in the Longman's guide.
     
  16. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Moderatös

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Using the original examples, I have interpreted Longman's guide as follows:
    He will definitely vote for Y = He's thought a lot about who to vote for and has finally made up his mind.
    He will certainly vote for Y = He's a true [insert Y's political affiliation here] and there's no way in hell that he'd vote for anyone else.

    Native speakers may disagree, of course. I might ask the opinion of one of my English lecturers (Australian) who is certain to have an opinion in the matter!

    /Wilma
     
  17. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    That's an interesting point of view, Wilma. I'd certainly like to agree with you, but I definitely don't feel the difference quite like that. I could swap your two definitions over and be just as happy with them.

    I see the difference as being not so much in the likelihood of his voting for Y as in the rhetorical force which the speaker wishes the adverb to give to his sentence.

    He will definitely vote for Y - We both, or all, know he will vote for Y.
    He will certainly vote for Y - I'm willing to concede your point that he'll vote for Y or I suspect you think he'll vote for Y and I'm ready to agree.

    This is the concessive force in certainly I was referring to earlier.
     
  18. domangelo Senior Member

    United States English
    Hello Wilma,

    Please look carefully at the words that Longman's uses to explain the use of the word 'definitely':

    " Use definitely to say that something IS CERTAIN TO happen or be true • I will definitely be back (NOT I will surely be back) by ten."

    definitely = certain to, or in other words, WITH CERTAINTY.

    In no way are they saying that the word 'certainly' could not also be used in this sense. They simply say that the word 'surely' cannot be used here. It would be absurd to say that 'certainly' does not mean the same thing as 'with certainty'.
     
  19. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Moderatös

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Oh, and there was me thinking there was some sort of emphatic connotation to 'certainly' that 'definitely' did not have. Oh well. We live and learn! :cool:

    /Wilma
     

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