I found this example sentence under the entry "sneaking" in Oxford Dictionary:

I've a sneaking suspicion they'll do well.

What puzzles me is what exactly the speaker is suspicious about. Literally, I can see it's a sentence without "that", which would make it to be like "I've a sneaking suspicion that they'll do well".

But that would also make the sentence's meaning tricky and sound unreasonable. If "they" will do well, then how could the speaker be suspicious? The speaker should wish people perform well, shouldn't he/she?

What is the correct interpretation of this tricky sentence?

  • I have [sneaking] suspicion = I suspect. – shawnt00 Feb 5 '15 at 23:27

The entire phrase "I've a sneaking suspicion" is fairly common and should be read/interpreted as a whole. You can't take the words individually because a suspicion can't actually sneak.

It suggests the speaker has an intuition or gut feeling about the possible outcome -or- that they information unknown to others about the outcome -or- they have secretly affected the outcome (cheated).

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  • Can I take "have a sneaking suspicion" as "have a sneaking feeling/intuition"? – dennylv Apr 17 '14 at 3:13
  • "sneaking feeling" yes, but it wouldn't be too common. "sneaking intuition" no, that doesn't sound right. – Johns-305 Apr 17 '14 at 3:34
  • Then what can be a proper paraphrase for that? – dennylv Apr 17 '14 at 3:50
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    You wouldn't 'paraphrase' this, but the two alternatives would be "I have a feeling..." or "My intuition says..." – Johns-305 Apr 17 '14 at 3:52

Your interpretation about the sentence is correct. It, indeed, has a "that" in it, but that was omitted. It's no surprise, as it's widely used this way.

Your claim that "The speaker should wish people perform well" is just an assumption. Why?? It will depend on the context. And here there is no context, and in dictionary example sentence one should not expect one.

I can show you one context where your sentence can make sense and will clear your doubt.

Context -

It's the time of election, and several political parties are fighting for the seat. Say the name of the political parties' names - A, B, C, d etc. Party A started campaign vigorously in a particular area. And that made party B speak out "I've a sneaking suspicion they'll do well"

Now does it making clear? So, it all depends on context. And without context you should not assume anything. Better read the sentence as it is.

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  • Yeah, you've given a very illuminating scenario here, and now I think the word "suspicion" may be interpreted as "a feeling", is that so? – dennylv Apr 17 '14 at 3:18
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    In this scenario the interpretation is correct. – Man_From_India Apr 17 '14 at 3:20

The phrase "a sneaking suspicion" is an idiom, used to soften an opinion. It means "I believe".

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  • I wouldn't necessarily say it "softens" the expression. It could be use to heighten interest and pique the listener's curiosity. Compare: I don't know for sure who organized my birthday party, but I believe I might know who it is, vs. I don't know for sure who organized my birthday party, but I have a sneaking suspicion about who it is. – J.R. Jul 2 '14 at 8:34
  • You illustrate my point. "I believe I might know" is not as strong an assertion as "I believe I know", which is in turn less definite than, "I know". The ambiguity introduced by softening the statement can indeed be used to heighten the listener's interest, but the effect of the idiomatic construction remains. – drenerbas Jul 3 '14 at 7:51

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