surely (=most likely, but not sure)

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lapot

Senior Member
Hello, I'd like to know if the word "surely" can be used meaning "most likely" in both AE and BE. Because I've seen in this thread. A British speaker who says:

Oddly enough, 'surely' is usually rather tentative and uncertain in BE: "Surely he will turn up for his own birthday party!" meaning that there is some doubt about it.


I don't know if this meaning exists in AE. I think it doesn't or it's maybe uncommon. In fact, The American Heritage Dictionary only states these 3 meanings for surely:
adv.1. With confidence; unhesitatingly.
2. Undoubtedly; certainly: You surely can't be serious.

3. Without fail: Slowly but surely spring returns.

I'd like to know your opinion! Thank you!
 
  • Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    That (uncertain) meaning also exists in AE. It's hard to say if the balance of usage is different between AE and BE - both uses of "surely" certainly exist in both variants., but I have the impression that surely = certainly is more common in AE than in BE.
     

    jmichaelm

    Senior Member
    English - US
    This "uncertain" usage is common in the US. For example from the film Airplane!

    Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
    Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.
     

    lapot

    Senior Member
    First off, thank you both for weighing in!

    This question came up watching the series Breaking Bad, where I came across this sentence:

    This current batch is surely ruined now.

    Is there any way to know what the speaker means here? I guess the context is not useful here to decide if he means that there exist uncertainty or not about having the batch ruined.
     

    jmichaelm

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I would guess from the context it is clear, but I can't say I remember that exact line from the series. I believe he is making an argument to convince someone that the batch of drugs has definitely been ruined.
     

    lapot

    Senior Member
    I would guess from the context it is clear, but I can't say I remember that exact line from the series. I believe he is making an argument to convince someone that the batch of drugs has definitely been ruined.
    No, this sentence is said by Gus. Since Gus thinks that the batch is (possibly or not) ruined, he allows Jesse to stay at the hospital with the kid of his girlfriend.
     

    vincix

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    I think it's a safe bet to understand it as his opinion in this context. He is convinced that the batch is ruined.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I agree.

    I don't think 'surely' expresses uncertainty. It sometimes introduces a assertion with an implied request for a confirmation that it is true.

    I understand "Surely, you can't be serious" as:
    "It's certain that you are not serious, right?"

    The requirement for confirmation is implied by the context and inflection, not by the word 'surely'.
     

    lapot

    Senior Member
    I understand "Surely, you can't be serious" as:
    "It's certain that you are not serious, right?"
    I always thought it was like that. It surprised me that some people see in it some uncertainty.

    What about the example that a British speaker gave in the thread in #1?
    "Surely he will turn up for his own birthday party!"

    Do you see uncertainty here?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I do. 'Surely' is used in such contexts as an attempt to persuade. The speaker is asking the listener to confirm his belief.
    I was taught at school that 'Surely ...?' is one way to introduce a question: 'Surely we can believe what we were taught at school?'
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Surely' lacks complete confidence and certainty. You wouldn't say it if you were actually sure. Of course, saying it doesn't mean you're unsure, but it does mean that there is an opening for revision or confirmation.

    Consider the situation where you can't find your keys. You ask yourself: Did you take them with you from home?

    (1) I know I had them when I left home.
    (2) I'm sure I had them when I left home.

    'Know' is what's called a factive word: (1) implies 'I had them when I left home'. You can now think of the next place you went. (2) doesn't imply such certainty. When you say (2), you are saying you strongly believe it, but are open to being shown wrong. Indeed, if you ring your home and someone tells you 'You left your keys here', then you can change only one of them into past tense:

    (1') :cross:I knew I had them when I left home.
    (2') :tick:I was sure I had them when I left home.

    Also, 'sure' and 'surely' like this aren't used when you've got the confirmation. If the cake has been in the oven too long, you might say it's surely ruined by now. But if you go and look, and it's black and smoking, then you would say the cake is definitely ruined, but not :thumbsdown: surely ruined. If you know something is ruined, you say simply 'It's ruined': adding 'surely' opens the thin chink of doubt.
     

    jmichaelm

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Do you see uncertainty here?
    In this usage the speaker sometimes believes something should be certain but is coming to see that it may not be. As a expression of realization that the impossible may in fact happen, it does indicate a sort of uncertainty.
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    I agree.

    I don't think 'surely' expresses uncertainty. It sometimes introduces a assertion with an implied request for a confirmation that it is true.

    I understand "Surely, you can't be serious" as:
    "It's certain that you are not serious, right?"

    The requirement for confirmation is implied by the context and inflection, not by the word 'surely'.
    How about "You're joking, right?","You've got to be kidding (me)!", "You can't be serious!" to mean this?
     
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