I can't distinguish 'positively' from 'certainly'.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, one of the definitions of 'positively' is: certainly.

positively adverb (CERTAINLY)
without a doubt; certainly:
• I positively will be there.

However, I know that the usage of 'positively' differs from 'certainly'.

For example, those sentences cited from a Reading Test in an FCE Test: 'Just imagine a date without paper,' reads one advertisement for a Finnish paper company. It adds,

'You almost (1)____ see our products every day.' And they are right. [...]

It provides me four options:

A. Positively; B. Obviously; C. Certainly; D. Absolutely.

As far as I knew, the key was C. Certainly. Can you explain why we choose C instead of A?

  • We can use 'positively' to mean 'certainly'. The police have positively identified the body found yesterday in the river. – Michael Harvey 1 hour ago Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 13:33
  • "Almost certainly" is a standard phrase meaning "very probably". Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 13:33
  • 1
    I'm voting "Unclear", because there are many different contexts where the two words are interchangeable, but many others where they're not. And some of those "differences" are a matter of opinion, whereas some are beyond dispute (on the grounds of syntax, semantics, idiomacy, or some combination thereof). Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 14:04
  • Idiomatically, the advice to a snooker player is always Strike the ball positively, never ...certainly. Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 14:06
  • You would only say 'You almost certainly see our products every day.'. You would never say ''You almost positively see our products every day.'. Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 14:37

1 Answer 1


In the context of this exam question, I would say that the key is almost. Almost certainly is a common expression, where as almost positively is not. From nGram

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Almost certainly roughly means very likely. Here's an example I dug up from Lexico:

[sentence adverb]
1 Used to emphasize the speaker's belief that what is said is true.
‘There are others as well, of course, and one of them will almost certainly come true.’

Now, lack of usage does not mean "incorrect". However, almost positively is not used in the same way as almost certainly. I can't say that almost positively has one particular or common meaning. If I force it into the exam sentence, then my first thought was that it sounded like you almost see the products in a positive way (as opposed to negatively, in a negative way). The meaning did not involve any kind of certainty.

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