There are two things that are very common in the business world, problems and change. Things often don't work as they should and need to be fixed and new products and services are constantly being introduced.

For both of these, it is necessary to express the probability of something being fixed or being ready. Although you can use simple phrases like 'perhaps', 'I'm sure' or verbs like 'it will be' or 'it might be' to express probability, there are also lots of other expressions/phrases that you can use and hear.

In this online exercise you will learn commonly used phrases in English to express different levels of probability of something happening in the future. First, read the below dialogue/conversation and then do the quiz/test at the end to learn how to both use the vocabulary and say/pronounce it perfectly.

Although the exercise is focused on business English, these phrases can also be in non-business situations as well.

Click here to see more of our free online exercises on business meeting vocabulary


Exercise: Expressing Probability in a Meeting

Read the following conversation in an internal business meeting in a customer service department about various items on the meeting's agenda.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Chair:'So, on to the third item on the agenda, the problems with the customer services telephone system. John from IT, do you have an update on this for us?'

IT Manager:'Yes I do. We've been investigating this for the past couple of weeks and we believe that we've found the problem.'

Customer Service Manager:'You believe you've found it?'

IT Manager:'As far as I can see, yes.'

Customer Service Manager:'So, it will be fixed soon?'

IT Manager:'We believe that we've identified the problem. Now we have to find a way of fixing it.'

Customer Service Manager:'Will it be fixed within a week?'

IT Manager:'Telephone systems are highly complex, so it's highly unlikely.'

Customer Service Manager:'Within 2 weeks?'

IT Manager:'I'm afraid to say this, but it's anyone's guess. We don't know how long it will take. It could be 2 weeks or 2 months.'

Customer Service Manager:'I can't take this back to my manager, he'll want to know a date.'

IT Manager:'Based on similar problems we've had in the past, an educated guess would be about a month. But that's not certain. There's still a lot of work to do.'

Chair:'Now, let's move on to item four on the agenda, the training programme for the new customer call system. What's the current situation?'

Trainer:'It's going as anticipated. We've nearly finished writing the course.'

Chair:'So, it will be ready for the beginning of March?'

Trainer:'Yes, without a shadow of a doubt, it will be ready for then.

Customer Service Manager:'It's very important it is ready for then. The training needs to be done before the new call system goes live on the second of April.'

Trainer:'I give you my word it will be ready for the beginning of March.'

Chair:'Ok, let's move on to the fifth item on the agenda. The opening of the new customer call centre in Dublin. Unfortunately, it's still up in the air. The city council is still refusing to give us the financial assistance that we need to open up the call centre there. So, it's doubtful that it'll be open by the end of the year. But we all know how councils change their minds, so we can't exclude the possibility that it will happen by then, even though it's not likely. So, we need the IT department to continue with their plans for integrating this call centre's computer and telephone systems into our IT network.'

IT Manager:'But if they are refusing to give us financial assistance, then what is the point in continuing planning?'

Chair:'I spoke to our Irish director last week and he told me that the reason that they have refused it is because the council's budget has been reduced. But he's spoken to several members of the council about it, who have told him that there is now a lot of support for giving us financial help. So, the indications are that we'll obtain the financial assistance, but he doesn't know whether we'll receive confirmation of this within a month or within six months.

Anyway, on to the last point on the agenda, the new government legislation. The government has not said if it will or will not happen. So, I wouldn't like to say if it will be introduced by June as it was originally intended to be. I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything.'


Quiz: Probability phrases used in business English

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. A phrase that is used to remind somebody that although something has a low probability, it should be taken into consideration, is
         

We can't exclude the possibility that:
(phrase) This is a commonly used in business. It means that although something has a low probability of happening, it is still important to plan/prepare for it happening. It is used to remind or possibly warn people, e.g. 'Although I sure it won't happen, we can't exclude the possibility that the contract won't be signed'. In Spanish: "no podemos excluir la posibilidad de que".

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We can't exclude the possibility that:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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2. A phrase which means that you don't know what will happen, that includes the word 'anyone's', is
         

It's anyone's guess:
(phrase) This is an informal phrase that means you don't know what will happen or if something is the reason or cause. This is normally used as an answer to somebody's question about the probability of something happening. 'Will it work?' 'It's anyone's guess'. It has the same meaning as 'I have no idea'. A more formal and professional way of saying this is 'I wouldn't like to say'. In Spanish: "quién sabe".

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It's anyone's guess:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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3. A phrase that means that something hasn't been decided and you don't know what the decision will be, is
         

It's still up in the air:
(phrase) This is commonly used in business to talk about decisions, agreements, negotiations. It means that something has still yet to be decided and you can't or won't predict what the result or outcome will be, e.g. 'negotiations between the two companies are still up in the air about the sale of the factory'. The use of 'still' in this phrase means 'continue' and it is possible to remove 'still' from the phrase, e.g. 'it's up in the air'. In Spanish: "aún está en el aire".

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It's still up in the air:

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4. A guess which has a higher probability of being correct, is called an
         

Educated guess:
(noun) Whereas a guess is when you answer somebody based on a feeling (with a low probability of being correct), an educated guess is when your answer is based on experience or knowledge (it has a higher probability of being correct). By telling somebody that your answer is an 'educated guess', will give them more confidence in trusting your answer. This phrase is normally used as an answer to somebody's question about the probability of something. In Spanish: "conjetura bien fundamentada".

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Educated guess:

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5. A phrase that means that information you have received suggests that something will happen, is
         

The indications are that:
(phrase) This is a very professional phrase. It means that based on information that you have heard, read or seen there is a high probability of something happening or being the cause of a problem, e.g. 'Peter's just doing some tests on the car and the indications are that there's a problem with the braking system'. In Spanish: "los indicios apuntan a".

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The indications are that:

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6. A phrase which means that you don't know what will happen, that includes the word 'to', is
         

I wouldn't like to say:
(phrase) This is a formal and professional phrase that means you don't know what will happen or if something is the reason or cause, e.g. 'Although we tested it successfully in the lab, I wouldn't like to say if it will work on live subjects'. It has the same meaning as 'I have no idea' or 'it's anyone's guess ' both of which are more informal phrases. This phrase is normally used as an answer to somebody's question about the probability of something. In Spanish: "no me gustaria decirlo".

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I wouldn't like to say:

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7. A different way to say 'I believe so', is
         

As far as I can see, yes:
(phrase) This phrase means that based on the information that you have, there is a high probability that something will happen or that something is the reason or cause. This phrase is normally used as an answer to somebody's question about the probability of something. You can also express a low probability with this phrase by replacing the 'yes' with a 'no', e.g. 'will the car be delivered by Friday?' 'as far as I can see, no'. In Spanish: "por lo que yo veo, sí".

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As far as I can see, yes:

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8. A phrase that guarantees that something will happen, is
         

I give you my word:
(phrase) In this context the phrase is used to reassure somebody that something will happen. The person saying it, is in effect guaranteeing to the other person that it will happen. But it does mean that if it doesn't happen then they'll personally take responsibility. This phrase is normally used as an answer to somebody's question about the probability of something. It shouldn't be used if you have any doubt that something will happen. In Spanish: "Le doy mi palabra".

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I give you my word:

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9. A phrase that means that there is a very low possibility that something will happen, is
         

It's highly unlikely:
(phrase) This phrase is very commonly used to say that there is a very low possibility that something will happen or that something is the reason or cause. By removing the 'highly', the phrase 'it's unlikely' means that something is not probable. Both phrases are followed by 'that' if you want to confirm what the subject of the probability is, e.g. 'It's highly unlikely that he'll arrive here before midnight'. You can also use 'likely', which has the opposite meaning, i.e. 'something is probable'. For example, 'it's likely that this is the cause of the problem'. In Spanish: "es muy poco probable".

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It's highly unlikely:

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10. A phrase that means there is a low probability that something will happen, is
         

It's doubtful:
(phrase) This phrase is very commonly used to say that there is a low possibility that something will happen or that something is the reason or cause. It has the same meaning as 'it's unlikely'. The phrase is followed by either 'if' or 'that' if you want to confirm what the subject of the probability is, e.g. 'It's doubtful if it's the cause of the problems'. In Spanish: "es dudoso".

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It's doubtful:

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11. A phrase that means that something will certainly happen, is
         

Without a shadow of a doubt:
(phrase) This phrase is used when the person saying it is certain or sure that something will happen or that something is the reason or cause. It's only used to answer somebody's question about the probability of something, e.g. 'will this fix the problem?' 'without a shadow of a doubt'. In Spanish: "sin lugar a dudas".

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Without a shadow of a doubt:

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Practice

Now that you understand the new probability vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences in English with the new words/phrases.