I got an email and was told something "Not positive but pretty sure" about something.

What does it mean? Should I expect a negative/bad news or I should assume that it will be a certain thing?


  • 1
    Welcome to ELL.SE! And you can look up "being positive" in a dictionary. – M.A.R. Jan 22 '15 at 18:04
  • positive sense 4: showing resolution or agreement; affirmative; certain ⇒ "a positive answer". – user3169 Jan 22 '15 at 18:12
  • Hello and welcome! Please note, that questions that can be answered with a dictionary are likely to be closed - sometimes even before someone writes an answer. You can avoid this if you give your own research - then we don't get the feeling that we are doing the work for you. (We are not a translation service...) Also, see the help center on what is on topic here and there is an excellent discussion on meta about what makes a good question: meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/439/… – Stephie Jan 22 '15 at 18:14
  • Before voting that this is something you can look up in a dictionary, please consider that a fluent speaker can easily use context to determine the appropriate sense of "positive" but this might not be so easy for someone unaccustomed to clipped English sentences without a verb. (You might still judge it to be a dictionary question, of course.) – Ben Kovitz Jan 22 '15 at 23:05

No, the positive here is not in reference to how good or bad the news is. "Positive", in this context, means "certain".

So what this means is that they believe something is likely but are not 100% certain.


"When was Pluto downgraded to a dwarf planet?"

"I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure it was in 2006."

  • thanks for your explanation. and I have a follow-up question: I thought "pretty sure" means "I am really sure", but actually it means "not sure", is it correct? – Zzz... Jan 22 '15 at 18:11
  • I would say pretty sure means 60-80% sure. – Kevin Jan 22 '15 at 18:12
  • I would say it depends on the person :) For me, "pretty sure" is what I say when I'm optimistic and don't have any evidence that the outcome will be one way or the other. If I was 60-80% sure, I would use a stronger phrase. @Zihan – ColleenV Jan 22 '15 at 18:40
  • @ColleenV people will use expressions in all kinds of ways, but in my experience, people tend to use "pretty sure" when they are more than 50% sure of something – Kevin Jan 22 '15 at 20:49
  • My point is that you shouldn't assign a number that means anything to something so ambiguous. Folks can't agree on how many constitutes "a couple", "a few", or "several". It's misleading to say its meaning is precisely the same in all contexts. I'm certain if you asked the same people questions on different topics on different days that they responded "pretty sure" to, and then followed up with "how certain is that on a scale of 0-100%?" there would be a lot of variance not just among the group, but also within the answers from many individuals. – ColleenV Jan 22 '15 at 21:39

You would be justified to hope for the best.

  • If someone is "positive", he is certain of a fact - think of medical or chemical tests: if something is tested positive, it's there.
  • "pretty" in the phrase "pretty sure" means "quite sure" or "very sure".

So your sender has no certain proof yet, but expects the outcome to be as expected/discussed.

  • ok, so I should expect the outcome as discussed before. really helpful, thanks! – Zzz... Jan 22 '15 at 18:13
  • You are welcome. Please make sure to read my comment on your question! – Stephie Jan 22 '15 at 18:15
  • I just have to disagree with your choice of example for "positive = certain"; getting a "false positive" on a medical test is entirely possible. Also, pretty in this case is actually a "de-intensifier"; "pretty sure" is less sure than "sure" by itself is, while "quite sure" and "very sure" are both "more than ordinarily sure". – Hellion Jan 22 '15 at 18:22
  • Of course there are false positives. But I was just trying to convey the idea, not go into medical details. BTW: that's why they are called false positives... – Stephie Jan 22 '15 at 18:24
  • I think there is a lot of variation in how certain someone is when they say they are "pretty sure". For me "pretty sure" is very non-committal and I would use "almost certain" if I really expected a particular result. I don't think that any conclusion could be drawn about whether to expect a negative or positive outcome - it seems like the person was saying "I don't know whether the outcome is positive or negative and I don't want to discourage you." – ColleenV Jan 22 '15 at 18:33

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