Six Everyday Phrases for Making Guesses

15 August, 2019

Sometimes, we are asked to give an answer or opinion about something when we don't have enough information or are not sure about it. We call such an answer or opinion a "guess."

People make guesses about a lot of things, like:

  • the cost or amount of something
  • what someone did or might do
  • and the cause or effect of something

There are many ways to express guesses in English.

On an earlier Everyday Grammar program, we talked about using modal verbs such as "could" "might" and "must" for making guesses.

Another way to make a guess, or speculate, is with phrases. And on our program today, we will talk about six common phrases Americans use to make guesses.

Off the top of my head...

To begin, "off the top of my head" is a phrase that means from the knowledge you have in your memory.

When you use this phrase, you are making a guess or estimate without thinking about it much before you answer. This often happens when you do not have much time to answer.

For example, imagine that your vehicle was damaged in a traffic accident. You ask an auto technician to make an estimate about the cost of repairs. This is what he says after briefly examining the damage:

Off the top of my head, it should be around $800.

Sometimes, however, we use this phrase to state that we cannot remember something, are not sure or do not know the answer – like in this exchange:

What is the capital of Comoros?
I don't know off the top of my head. But I can find out.

I wouldn't be surprised...

Next, sometimes you can base an opinion or guess on things you already know.

We use the phrase "I wouldn't be surprised" to say that an action or fact is certain or likely, based on what we know about someone or something.

With this phrase, we are expecting something to happen because it is typical. Listen to this example:

I wouldn't be surprised if she won the book award this year. Her short stories have received much praise in the media.

This phrase is also sometimes used to say that an undesirable action or situation is expected, as in this example:

I wouldn't be surprised if the auto shop overcharged us. The last time I went for repairs, my bill was too high.

Knowing you / him / her...

The verb "know" is also useful when talking about what you think will happen based on what you know. When we use it in a certain way, it means "Considering how well I already know this person, place or thing, I am almost sure of what will happen."

Listen to a short exchange between two people and I'll show you what I mean. Let's say they are roommates of a person named Vijay:

Vijay doesn't return until next week so I am going to borrow his grill.

Knowing him, I'm sure that is fine.

This phrase can be used with a person's name, a pronoun such as "you" "him" or "her," a thing or a place. Here's another example, this time about a thing:

Knowing my luck, it'll start raining as soon as I leave the house!

It's difficult to say

Next, we turn to the phrase "It's difficult to say." We use it to stress that a guess is difficult to make. For example, say two football teams are competing in a championship game, and someone asks you to predict which will win:

It's difficult to say. Both teams have had an unusually strong season this year.

We also use this phrase when the overall effect of a problem is hard to measure or has not been fully studied:

It's difficult to say what effect gun violence in the U.S. has had on tourism. But some countries have announced travel warnings.

There are two other ways of wording this phrase: "It's tough to say" and "It's hard to say."

Skydiving is the sport of jumping from an airplane and falling through the sky before a parachute opens. But there's no way some would try it.
Skydiving is the sport of jumping from an airplane and falling through the sky before a parachute opens. But there's no way some would try it.

I bet...

Now onto "I bet." This is a phrase we use to say we think something is probably true or will probably happen. Take this example, about a person's health:

My throat has been hurting since last night. I bet I'll get sick by tomorrow.

Other times, we use it to make a guess about something when we are angered or amused by it. Earlier, for example, a speaker talked about her bad luck with rain. Listen to what she says this time:

I've been waiting all week to go for a swim. I bet it will rain again today.

There's no way / chance...

And finally, we use the phrase "There's no way" to mean that we are certain something will not happen. It has the same meaning as "There's no chance." Both are commonly used when talking about people or situations.

For example, if you know your friend is afraid of heights, the friend probably would refuse to try a sport involving high places. Listen to this short exchange:

I really want Shelly to come skydiving with us!

There's no way you'll persuade her. She is afraid of heights and hates flying in general.

By now, you might be wondering if you can simply use the word "guess" to make a guess. The answer is yes, as in this:

I know how much you love learning English, so I'm guessing you'll be back next week for more!

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

modal verbn. a verb that is usually used with another verb to express ideas such as possibility, necessity and permission

phrasen. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence

typicaladj. usual for a person, thing or group

billn. a document that says how much money you owe for something you have bought or used

grill n. a metal frame used to cook food over hot coals or an open fire

stress v. to give special attention to something

tourismn. the activity of traveling to a place for pleasure

toughadj. very difficult to do or deal with

amusev. to entertain someone in a light and pleasant way