In German language you use an expression mit an Sicherheit grenzender Wahrscheinlichkeit to say that you are almost one hundred percent sure/certain.

A particularity of that expression is that it has a subtility that I think comes from probability/mathematics; you say that you are not one hundred percent sure, but you can come arbitrarily close to certainty.
The expression also can make someone smile and/or shows a little bit of sophistication in the usage of the German language despite it's somewhat confusing meaning.
A probably wrong but literal translation could be something like with probability bordering/verging on certainty.

I use the expressions almost certain, very sure, pretty sure, etc. in this case, but I wonder....

In English language there is an expression that can come very close to the German expression?


2 Answers 2


You might just go with the literal translation with probability bordering on certainty, which doesn't sound clunky at all. It actually sounds quite witty in English with exactly the same nod to mathematical sophistication.

As an alternative, you might use with confidence bordering on certainty.

Roger Ebert uses "with a confidence bordering on certainty" in this review of a film.

Actually, a google search of this latter phrase shows a lot of hits.

  • Why are your suggestions missing the indefinite article (“a”)?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 31, 2015 at 9:32
  • I would usually omit them for better flow, since "with probability"and "with confidence" both have nice sounding iambic pentameter.
    – DyingIsFun
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:35

Certainty can be modified by moral (or certain by morally) to indicate a degree of certainty short of absolute. Thus to a moral certainty might well do as an idiomatic translation of mit an Sicherheit grenzender Wahrscheinlichkeit.

OED s.v. moral:

  1. Of evidence, argument, etc.: based on a knowledge of the general tendencies of human nature, or of a particular person’s character; probable rather than demonstrative, sufficient to justify practical certainty. Of a belief: held as practically certain. Freq. in moral certainty n. a degree of probability so great as to admit of no reasonable doubt; a practical certainty on the basis of moral evidence.

In some fairly early usage, e.g., George Campbell’s Philosophy of Rhetoric (1776) Chap. 5, this means any degree of certainty falling short of the absolute certainty of mathematical or logical proof or demonstration, including the by-word certainties of death and taxes and the strongest evidences of our senses and physical sciences concerning the world around us; but the definition offered by the American Heritage Dictionary (again, s.v. moral) suggests a degree of certainty considerably less than those:

  1. Based on strong likelihood or firm conviction, rather than on the actual evidence: a moral certainty.

Ngram shows these phrases declining in frequency since the all-time high associated with Campbell’s publication, but still current though a little recherché, as (we are told) is the German expression in question.

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