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How To
 

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- making suggestions

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- making a point

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- disagreeing

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- expressing uncertainty

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- taking offence

A famous person's eyes
A famous person's eyes - but whose?
 

Expressing uncertainty

When you are learning a language, you become very good at showing people you don't know something! But sometimes we have an idea about something, but we're not completely sure. How can we express different levels of certainty?

This programme is suitable for elementary / pre-intermediate learners.

When you've listened to the programme, don't forget to practise what you've learned with the activity at the bottom of this page.

Click below to listen again to the conversation between Catherine and Elena, which was featured in this programme.

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Question Tags
We often use this structure when we are unsure of something or want to check information.

1. It's not Shilpa Shetty ...

is it?

2. She isn't an actress...

is she?

3. That's Shilpa Shetty ...

isn't it?

4. She's been on T.V. ...

hasn't she?

Examples 3 and 4 show slightly more certainty than 1 and 2. However, the intonation the speaker uses with a question tag is the main indicator of the level of certainty. Listen to these two clips of Example 1:

Upward intonation
(less certain) (MP3 - 22 KB)
Downward intonation
(more certain) (MP3 - 16 KB)

Note: When responding to question tags, yes and no refer to whether something is or isn't the case, not whether the first speaker is right or wrong. So in the following exchange, B is saying he doubts the woman is an actress:

A: She's not an actress, is she?
B: No, I don't think so.

On the Grammar Challenge website, you can find out more about the formation and intonation patterns of question tags.

Modals
It

might

may

could

must

be Shilpa Shetty

uncertain

  

 certain

Could is sometimes combined with a question tag:

She couldn't be an actress, could she?

You can use possibly and perhaps with all these modals (except must), to indicate a lack of certainty:

She might perhaps be an actress ...
She couldn't possibly be an actress, could she?

Using I think before a modal usually shows that the speaker is more certain about something, e.g.

I think it might be Shakira
I think she might be an actress

However, a sentence like this with extra stress on the modal indicates slightly less certainty:

More certain
(MP3 - 14 KB)
Less certain
(MP3 - 52 KB)

Maybe and Perhaps
Maybe ... she's a film star
Perhaps ...


WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT?

Activity
Choose the one correct answer in the quiz below. Click 'next' to go to the next question.

download script If you don't have flash, you can download a printable version of this activity (15 KB)



So whose eyes are they?
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz
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