"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by tphuong122002, Mar 17, 2008.

  1. tphuong122002 Senior Member

    Vietnamese Vietnam
    Hi my friends!

    What do you English speakers mean when you say "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is" ? Could anyone help explain the meaning?

    Many thanks!

  2. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    It's a phrase that indicates pessimism.

    It means that the person does not believe good things are happening, even if it looks like they are.


    I got my power bill in the mail the other day, but it showed a credit of $50. I thought it seemed too good to be true, and that they had actually made a mistake.
  3. tphuong122002 Senior Member

    Vietnamese Vietnam
    Thank you very much, nzfauna, for your great help!:thumbsup:
  4. Harry Batt

    Harry Batt Senior Member

    USA English
    This expression is used to define a reaction to all sorts of occurences. A daughter describing a new, wonderful boy friend to her mother might hear it in the mother's reaction. Eg., "Well, dear, watch yourself. He sounds just too good to be true." Yes, there is an element of pessimism, but also of caution.
  5. Do you ever get phone calls or letters telling you that you have won prizes in competitions you have not entered, or that a millionaire wants to share his wealth with you?

    They're definitely too good to be true.

  6. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I knew the first part (It is too good to be true), but not the end (it probably is).
    From what you're saying, I gather that it probably is means "it is probably too good to be true" rather than just "it is probably true?" :)
    I mean, that was my first understanding of it. I thought it meant something along the lines of "things are not always as bad as we think".
  7. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    Yes, "It is probably too good to be true". :)
  8. minipc New Member

    English - UK
    Did you know that at the moment this is the third highest ranked result for the search
    and that, in fact, it is the highest rated result originating from a site that deals with English usage?

    All the contributors to this thread have correctly reported the correct usage of the phrase. But no one has actually explained its meaning, which was part of the original question posed. So, if I may, I would like to try to explain it.

    Of all the contributions, the one from our friend with the Aliens movie series related user-name got closest to a proper explanation. The phrase
    can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either
    or, its intended use,
    One contributor has correctly pointed out that this second interpretation is essentially the outlook of a pessimist. However, that is not the purpose of the phrase. Rather, the phrase is a means of expressing doubt in the veracity of some fact or situation. So the meaning of the phrase is that
    So, to finish with an example, imagine taking part in some carnival sideshow gambling game, where the host claims he can flip a coin from your pocket ten times and each time the coin will land on heads. Of course, you take the bet because you think that the chances he has of getting ten heads in a row from flipping a true coin are very low. You hand over the coin, which against your expectations, the gambler duely wins by flipping ten heads in a row, as he claimed he would.

    So, how do you explain his unlikely win? Either you accept that the gamer was extraordinarily lucky, or you come up with some other explanation. For instance, that the coin you saw being flipped was not the true coin you handed over, but a biased coin that the gamer introduced without you seeing. In other words, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is(n't true).
  9. Ryath New Member

    English Canada
  10. Ryath New Member

    English Canada
    Some one offers you what they claim to be is a 1 ct diamond ring for $10 and you know that something is wrong with the price because its way too cheap . . that's the "seems too good to be true" part (You can't believe someone want to sell you this ring so cheaply) . . "it probably is" means, that you are almost certainly right. Because you know that no-one would sell a ring like that so cheaply. Regardless of the situation, if the OBJECT is too perfect there is generally a catch to it and must now be consider more carefully. Another expression that could also be used ; "examine the proposition carefully it probably has a hole in it." Meaning what you are being offered stands a good chance of being flawed or damaged .
  11. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Ryath is right. In my experience, this phrase is most often used as a warning against financial offers that seem very tempting. They often contain lines like: "I have only about a few months to live according to medical experts,I am looking for someone reliable and trusted that can use my ($5,200M) for the less privileged" (I quote one I recently received).

    This is "too good to be true" (= wonderfully promising) and it is indeed "too good to be true" (= so good that it cannot be true). Nobody is simply going to give millions to a stranger, and especially not Bill Gates or the US Department of Justice (two sources often quoted). In short, it means "This is a con-trick".

    I don't think that indicates pessimism - just good sense.

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