Take these two sentences as example:

This road is closed during football games.

I'm sure this road is closed during football games.

Why does the first sentence convey more certainty, when the second sentence explicitly includes a statement of positivity?

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    Because positivity does not mean certainty. These are very different concepts. You can be positive about something and be completely wrong. The first sentence does not include any sort of person making any statement, so there is no possibility of error. Dec 1 '21 at 19:32
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    I was going to say the same as @FeliniusRex, adding "I'm sure" introduces a human's point of view to the mix...and we all know how fallible they are. Dec 1 '21 at 19:34
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    Any mention of likelihood or certainty is weaker than a bald statement, since it calls attention to the conditions instead of the statement. Grice's quality maxim says you shouldn't mention things that aren't important, so why state that you're sure if you really are? Dec 1 '21 at 20:56
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    No, but both are weaker than "This road is closed". Dec 1 '21 at 23:32
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    The second sentence introduces a speaker — the "I" — a fallible human. This is more about rhetoric or logic than grammar. Dec 2 '21 at 3:12

The reason that the second statement is perceived as less certain than the first has to do with the fact that we are used to hearing statements like "I'm sure" added in cases where the speaker only believes it to be true without having witnessed proof. Consider this third statement:

I know for a fact that this road is closed during football games.

This is another sentence where the perspective of the speaker is introduced, but it carries as much or more perceived certainty as the first statement. This is because what we assume is true for the first statement and is false for the second statement—the presence of evidence of the fact—is stated explicitly in the third statement. If we all only added "I'm sure" to statements when we indeed were sure based on proof, we would not experientially attribute less certainty to statements constructed this way.


sure : "confident in what one thinks or knows; having no doubt that one is right."

It conveys confidence, not certainty or correctness.

"I'm confident this road is closed during football games."

confident : "feeling or showing certainty about something"

There's a lot of feeling and thinking going on here and not much knowing.

Show me the sauce. Pics or it didn't happen. Citation needed.

  • It more or less translates to I'm working under the assumption that this road is closed during football games. And we all know what happens when asinine asses assume things.
    – Mazura
    Dec 8 '21 at 21:59
  • You are not making fair comparisons. We should compare the effect of someone saying sentence 2, not with statement 1's meaning, but with the effect of someone saying sentence 1. By the effect I mean how confident the listener is that the statement is true. Anyway, is OP asking about the pragmatics of "I'm sure" in general, or only in that example? There's also the usage as in "I'm sure there's a word for it but I can't recall it" and "This road's closed already? I'm sure I read that it wouldn't be closed until tomorrow".
    – Rosie F
    Jan 8 at 7:41

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