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Certainly or Of Course?

Ask a Teacher
Ask a Teacher
Certainly or Of Course?
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Today we answer a question from Alan in China. He writes:


“I ... know that people always say ‘Certainly!’ or ‘Of course’… So what's the difference? Thank you!” – Alan


Dear Alan,

Thank you for writing to us.

The expressions “certainly” and “of course” are similar in meaning. What is different is how you use them and with whom.

By definition, the word “certainly" means that you know something for sure.

This is the more formal, or official-sounding, of the two words. In a world that is becoming more socially informal, you are less likely to use the word “certainly.” But here is an example:

You are in a meeting with your supervisor at work. She says to you, “Do you think you can have your report ready by next Friday?”

You may answer: “Yes, certainly. It will be ready by then.”

There is no question in your mind the report will be ready!

Now we turn to the term “of course.”

It is defined this way: “used informally to give permission or say yes in a way that shows you are very certain”

You are more likely to use “of course” when speaking with friends.

For example, your friend Tom asks:

Do you want to go to the party with me Saturday night?”

You may answer:

“Of course! I’d love to go, sounds fun!”

Other, similar words you can use are “sure” and “alright.”

“Sure” leaves no question in anyone’s mind.

Let’s go to the beach for the weekend!

Sure, that would be great!

The words “all right” mean that you agree with what someone said. The difference is you can use this term if you are not happy about it.

Here is an example:

Can you help me finish my work?

All right, but only for an hour.

You can use it like the term ok.

And That’s Ask a Teacher!

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English. Jill Robbins and George Grow were the editors.

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