4

How is sure different from yes? How is it different from other responses? When should I use it?

10

Sure is used to signal consent, or to put it another way, willingness to go along with something. It's often used in response to requests for permission:

Alice: Would you mind if I take the car?
Bob: Sure, go ahead.

In the above, Bob is willing to go along with the proposition of letting Alice use his car. Bob is not signalling literal agreement with Alice's words, which is exactly what yes does:

Alice: Would you mind if I take the car?
Bob: Yes, I would mind very much. Take the bus.

Compare the following:

Alice: Would you mind if I take the car?
Bob: No, go right ahead.

In this case, literal disagreement has the same illocutionary force as sure, so we can see that yes and sure don't mean the same thing. However, the opposite might be true in another situation:

Alice: Would you like some cake?
Bob: Yes, I'd love some.

Alice: Would you like some cake?
Bob: Sure, thank you.

Here, Bob's willingness to go along with Alice's proposition has the same force as literal agreement. No would signal the opposite:

Alice: Would you like some cake?
Bob: No, thank you.

In other words, sure signals consent, while yes and no signal literal agreement or disagreement.

  • Your explanation of the consent part is really good! – temporary_user_name Jul 2 '13 at 15:07
  • @Aerovistae Oh, that's the whole thing. When you say sure to a hypothetical situation, you're consenting to a verbal proposition (such as "Let's say..."). – snailboat Sep 30 '13 at 18:53
  • I already speak English, lol, I'm from Rhode Island. Thanks though! I was asking for other people's benefit. – temporary_user_name Sep 30 '13 at 19:04
  • @Aerovistae I know you do! But you called it a part, when in fact it was a complete explanation. That's why I thought it was worth clarifying :-) – snailboat Sep 30 '13 at 19:41
  • Ah, gotcha, lol. – temporary_user_name Oct 1 '13 at 2:04
2

Sure is an informal expression meaning "Certainly," which is more formal.

May I have one of those?

Certainly.

is more formal than

May I have one of those?

Sure.

Using "sure" in this way is typically American, as Americans are more wont to substitute adjectives for adverbs in informal speech.

For example, an American might say

"we were beaten good and proper"

whereas an Englishman would be more likely to say

"we were well and truly beaten."

  • 1
    Actually both of those sentences sound very British to my American ear. I can't imagine hearing either of them in speech (though the second I could perhaps see in writing). – WendiKidd Jul 4 '13 at 17:35
  • My mother used to use the phrase "whale you good and proper" when I was a kid (granted, she would also use the phrase "the cat's pajamas"; perhaps "beaten real good" is a better example). In my experience (I lived in England for two years as a young teenager) using such a phrase would brand me immediately as an American in England. Finally, I remember watching the highlights of a cricket match, and hearing the commentator say "he was well and truly stumped." (In cricket being stumped is roughly analogous to being tagged out in baseball, and very rarely happens in top-level play.) – BobRodes Jul 4 '13 at 17:52
1

Sure is an answer that specifically means I agree with you, or I will do as you wish.

For example, if somebody asks Would you mind helping me clean the house?, you have the option to say Yes (which means "I do mind," and is the equivalent of refusing to help, even though it sounds like you're agreeing) or No (which means "I don't mind" and is the equivalent of agreeing to help, even though it sounds like a refusal). See how in this case, both options are confusing?

But if you say sure, there's none of that ambiguity. It's understood that you are agreeing to help. No matter how the question was phrased, if you say Sure, it means "I agree with you and will do as you wish."


Of course, you can say sure sarcastically, as with anything, in which case it usually implies the express opposite: "I do not agree!" or sometimes "I don't believe you."

The last and most sophisticated (native-level) usage of sure is for when someone is talking about a hypothetical situation. It's used to acknowledge hypothetical "givens." We're using our imagination here. Here's an example:

Jim: So let's say I gave you a thousand dollars.
Bob: Sure.
Jim: And then you wouldn't give it back.
Bob: Sure, okay.
Jim: Does that give me the right to kill you??

  • Ah, I didn't know you were going to answer your own question! (I decided to post my answer anyway.) There's actually a feature that lets you post them at the exact same time, if you like. – snailboat Jul 2 '13 at 14:58
  • @snailplane Yeah it just struck me as an interesting/good question, so I thought I'd throw it up. – temporary_user_name Apr 7 '14 at 14:36

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