Suppose vs. Guess vs. Figure: English Vocabulary Lesson

Michael Confusing Words 2 Comments

Some of my students have told me they have trouble understanding the difference between suppose, guess, and figure in English. Today, let’s have a look at these three words:

Suppose means to assume something, based on some evidence or probability, but without certain proof:

  • I suppose you have a good reason for being late. I’m sure you probably have a good reason for being late.
  • It’s 6:10pm and nobody answered the phone in Joe’s office. I suppose they’ve already gone home. I know they usually go home by 5:30 or 6:00pm. Based on that, and the evidence that nobody answered the phone, I assume they’ve already gone home. 

We also use suppose to introduce a hypothesis:

  • The police suppose the bank was robbed between 9pm Friday and noon on Saturday.
  • I suppose we could attract more customers by changing the color of the website.

Guess means to estimate something without having sufficient information to be exactly correct:

  • I guess Jane’s boyfriend is about 35 or 37 years old.
  • There’s a long line in front of the restaurant. I guess there will be a long wait for a table.

Figure is used in informal English to mean we think or expect something to be the situation:

  • The boss said he wants to talk about something important tomorrow. I figure he will talk to me about that transfer to Tokyo I heard about. The transfer to Tokyo is a big topic in my company now, and I since only a few of us speak Japanese, think the boss wants to talk about this.
  • I cooked dinner! I figured you would be tired from your long day in the office, so I decided to cook dinner for you. I expected that you would be too tired to cook.

What English words do you find confusing? Leave a comment below and let me know.
If you know anyone who might be interested in this English language point, why not help them out! Just share this lesson with them. Thanks for studying today!

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