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Can verbs such as promise, guarantee, swear and assure be used to mean convince others that something will (not) happen in the future or did (not) happen in the past? In other words, are they used for things both in the future and in the past, or just one of them?

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Your use of the word "convince" is the key. It's irrelevant whether the thing being talked about is past, present, or future - all that matters is it should be something the person you're talking to either doesn't know for certain, or thinks he knows different to you. – FumbleFingers Oct 30 '11 at 16:32
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, all of these words can be used to, as you said, "convince others that something will/did (not) happen in the future/past." These words can be used regardless of tense, either past, present, or future. The difference between them is generally in connotation, or slight differences in meaning effected by word choice.

All of these verbs are fairly strong, however, it would be more acceptable to break a promise than a guarantee. A promise means one will do his best to bring the action about, whereas a guarantee means there is no chance that it should occur or fail to occur, depending on context. Guarantee is usually used to refer to future events, though not exclusively. Swearing sometimes bears a religious or legal connotation, and assure is generally taken to be a more formal synonym for promise.

All of these are based on my American English background and usage.

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In summary all these words are used to convince someone that some statement is true. The statement can be about future, past, present or any other tense. – Unreason Oct 31 '11 at 9:25

While you could use any of these words regarding something that might have happened in the past or will happen in the future (or not happen, as the case may be) I would say that they are not all equally applicable to past and future.

Guarantee is much more applicable to a future event. I don't think anyone would say: "I guarantee I did not eat that cake." Promise is also future-oriented, but less decidedly so. One could swear that they will (or won't) do something in the future, or they could swear that some fact about the past is truthful. I would say that assure is time-neutral in its connotation.

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While it's not an especially common phrasing, I sometimes here and even say, "I can guarantee that he did not...." In such case, I have some proof that said person did not do said activity. I agree that guarantee is more applicable to a future event, and I will edit my answer to reflect that. – Brendon Oct 31 '11 at 1:18

protected by RegDwigнt Sep 26 '13 at 13:24

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