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Context:

A doctor at a hospital is advising a wife to a comatose husband to consider taking him off life support. The wife asks if they're sure that he won't recover, to which the doctor says:

"Nothing suggests that he will, but we can't guarantee anything."

Is it natural to use "guarantee" here when it's not a good thing that he won't wake up? If not, is there another word I could use?

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I agree that "guarantee" is not appropriate in either its legal or colloquial meaning. Legally, "to guarantee an event" is to owe recompense if the event does not occur. Colloquially, "to guarantee an event" is to express certainty that the event will occur. In your scenario, the doctor would not be making the recommendation actually being made unless the doctor was relatively confident that the patient will not regain consciousness. Thus, to say it cannot be guaranteed means it is not certain. But what the doctor must believe is that it is not even probable.

Thus, what is plausible for the doctor to say is

Nothing suggests he will revive, but we cannot be absolutely sure that he won't.

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  • Could I also say: ...but we cannot say anything with (absolute) certainty. – breadman08 Mar 13 '20 at 14:46
  • Yes, either of the suggestions in the comment above is fine. – Jeff Morrow Mar 13 '20 at 15:47
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A better approach here is to use 'say'.

"Nothing suggests that he will, but we can't say anything."

As guarantee is not an appropriate word for this context.

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  • Probably not appropriate for a doctor to claim he can't say anything either. He almost certainly can say something about how likely a recovery is. – puppetsock Mar 13 '20 at 14:24
  • It would be better to explain a bit why "guarantee" is not appropriate for this context. – WXJ96163 Mar 13 '20 at 14:51

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