June 26, 2008

#01-127: How to Use "Suppose"

people on a sidewalk look on as an older man bends over to make his choice in a classic "shell game"
"I suppose it's under the middle one..."

Note: The word "suppose" can be used for guessing, or for softening, or for "hypotheticals," or for reluctance. Learn how to use this versatile word!

Get Ready: How many ways can you think of to use the word "suppose"?

There's a word that is often used, but few realize how many different ways it's used.

The word is "suppose."

Sometimes we use it to indicate we're making a guess:

"Who's that woman he's with?"
"I suppose that's his new girlfriend."

This meaning of "suppose" can also be used in question form:

"Do you suppose they'll stay together long?"

"Suppose" can be used to express an idea weakly:

"What do you think of her looks?"
"Well, I suppose she's pretty."

The same thing can be used for agreeing weakly:

"I think she's pretty."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right."

Again, it can be used to go along with a suggestion reluctantly:

"Do you want to meet her?"
"Oh, well, I suppose I do."

Notice that in all of the above cases, the person who uses "suppose" is avoiding taking a strong stand about anything. "Suppose," then, works as a softener.

By the way, in the last two examples above, the person could have answered with a short form: "I suppose" or "I suppose so." So:

"I think she's pretty."
"Yeah, I suppose so."


"Do you want to meet her?"
"Oh, I suppose."


We also use "suppose" to introduce imaginary situations:

"Suppose you were a bird. How would you spend your day?"

Likewise, we can use it when we are making a suggestion:

"Suppose I pay this time, and you pay next time?"

"Suppose" is also used in the negative, with different purposes.

In some cases, when we use "don't suppose" we are asking a question where we expect a "no" answer:

"I don't suppose you'd like to give me a million dollars, would you?"

In other cases, it can be the negative not only of "suppose," but also of "imagine" and "guess." We seldom say, "I don't imagine..." and we never say "I don't guess."

By the way, as a negative short answer, it could be "I don't suppose so" or "I suppose not."

Also note that we seldom use "suppose" in the continuous form: "I'm supposing I'll stay home tonight."

Now, a slightly different form--and use--is "supposed to." This can mean "should" or "be expected to." British English speakers more often use "meant" for this:

"I'm supposed to work tomorrow."


"I'm meant to work tomorrow."

Sometimes this use implies "but not":

"I'm supposed to work tomorrow (but I'm going to call in sick)."

When we use it in the negative, we're saying that something is prohibited:

"You're not supposed to smoke on an airplane."

Finally, "supposed to" can mean "believed by many" (especially if the speaker can't confirm it):

"I haven't seen Kung Fu Panda, but it's supposed to be pretty good."

There; I suppose that's enough for this time!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guessing

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. avoiding
  2. continuous form
  3. express
  4. imaginary
  5. likewise
  6. realize
  7. reluctantly
  8. seldom
  9. softener
  10. suggestion

  1. not enthusiastically; with hesitation
  2. a word or words that makes something less direct
  3. not very often
  4. indicating something is still happening by using -ing
  5. become aware of something
  6. say; offer words about
  7. not real; in someone's mind
  8. staying away from; going around
  9. proposal; recommendation
  10. in the same way

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 26, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. d; 3. f; 4. g; 5. j; 6. e; 7. a; 8. c; 9. b; 10. i