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SEMINAR 2

POSSIBILITY, PROBABILITY AND CERTAINTY


OBLIGATIONS

POSSIBILITY, PROBABILITY AND CERTAINTY

A. Likelihood – aside from modals, we can use a number of words and phrases to say
how likely it is something that will happen. Some examples:

1. verbs and verbal phrases:


I bet you never write to her.
I’d stake my life on his honesty.
I don’t doubt that he could do the job.
I can’t see the situation changing much in the near future.
I assume he knows what he is doing.

2. adjectives and adjectival phrases:


He’s highly unlikely to arrive before nine.
He’s bound / certain / sure to arrive at some point.

3. noun phrases:
The chances are that interest rates will fall in the near future.
There’s every chance / likelihood of interest rates coming down.
There’s a strong / distinct possibility that interest rates will be reduced.

4. adverbs and adverbial phrases:


Presumably, he’ll be back. In all probability, today. Maybe even this
morning – conceivably within the next half an hour. Doubtless, he’ll ring
first.

B. Improbability - aside from modals, we can use a number of words and phrases to say
how unlikely it is something that will happen. Some examples:

1. verbs and verbal phrases:


I wouldn’t bet on her coming first.
I doubt if we’ll meet again.
In situations like that, climbers don’t stand a chance of surviving.

2. adjectives and adjectival phrases:


She’s highly unlikely to have survived the earthquake.

3. noun phrases:
The prospects of them surviving are slim.
I have my doubts.
There’s very little / no chance / likelihood that the exchange rate will
improve.
There’s a slight / slim possibility of her coming back.
Hopes are fading / Fears are growing as to their chances of survival.
The odds are against them coming out of their comas.

PRACTICE

1. Tick the sentences in which the speakers are optimistic that the project will go ahead.

a. I have little doubt that the project has great potential.


b. I must confess to a few reservations concerning the ultimate success of the
project.
c. I have my doubts as to the wisdom of going ahead with such a subject.
d. There’s every chance that the doubts being expressed about the subject will be
unfounded.
e. The odds are against such a project getting off the ground.
f. It’s odds on that the project will fall flat on its face.
g. I do believe that, contrary to public opinion, the project has every chance of
success.
h. There’s no way this project is going to see the light of day, I assure you.
i. I wouldn’t bet against this project being the best thing to happen to us since the
Euro.
j. But for a miracle, this project is bound to hit the dust almost immediately.

2. Underline which two options in each item are possible to complete the sentences:

a. You’ll have the chance / possibility / occasion / opportunity to look over the
house tomorrow.
b. I have my doubts / uncertainties / beliefs / reservations as to this applicant’s
suitability.
c. The chances / odds / possibilities / probabilities are she will reject him.
d. I’d stake / offer / bet / invest my mortgage on the fact that she’s honest.
e. Our new gardener’s bound / convinced / hoped / certain to make a good job of
cutting the hedge.
f. The new student’s bound / likely / sure / confident of passing the initial test.
g. She’s in any / little / no / full doubt as to the identity of the intruder.
h. It doesn’t look as whether / though / how / if the meeting’s going to take place.
i. There’s a distant / remote / far / distinct possibility that I’ll be able to help after
all.
j. There will almost inevitably / probably / certainly / inconceivably be some
troubles in the beginning.
OBLIGATIONS

A. Legal and institutional obligations.


1. we can express moral and legal obligations with verbs. Note that we often use the
passive:
Visitors are not allowed / permitted to picnic on the grass.
Smoking on these premises is strictly forbidden.
Chewing gum has been banned from the canteen area.
Jim has now been barred from five different clubs.
Guests are required to vacate their rooms by midday.
You’re breaking the law.

2. we can express obligation or permission with adjectives:


Military service is still compulsory in many countries.
Is her evidence permissible in court?
Joining the union is not obligatory.

3. we also use many prepositional phrases to express legal obligation:


Is this within or outside the law?
Some people think they are above the law.
You’re under no obligation to say anything if arrested.
It’s in your contract.

B. Moral obligation.

1. we can express obligation using nouns:


It’s your duty to help them.
You have an obligation to support your family.
There’s no need to feel guilty.

2. we can also express moral obligation using adjectives:


He has been sent off for illegitimate use of the elbow.
There has been talk of illicit liaison.
Their demands were (totally) unreasonable.

3. we can also use verbs:


You’re supposed to smile at all of your clients.
You’re not expected to leave a tip.
You’re not obliged to pay to go into the gallery.

C. Personal obligation and freedom of choice.

1. we use many common phrases to express personal obligation:


It’s your job to make sure they all get back safely.
Isn’t it your turn to cook?
It’s up to you to tell him, after all, he’s your brother.
It’s all down to you to decide if you’re going. (= you must decide)

2. we also use a number of common phrases to suggest we have freedom of choice:


It’s up to you what you wear.
You choose.
Do as you wish.
It’s your choice.
Nobody’s forcing you.
No one’s telling you what to do.

PRACTICE

1. Fill in each of the following sentences with an appropriate word from the list.

compulsory obligatory illegitimate permissible


illicit permitted illegal forbidden

a. Psychologists maintain that we are all tempted by the concept of the forbidden
fruit.
b. The referee deemed the punch illegitimate and disqualified him.
c. It’s illegal for children to buy cigarettes.
d. The driver was found to have above the permitted level of alcohol in his blood.
e. Were illicit affairs more or less common centuries ago than they are now, do you
think?
f. There are three compulsory questions in the exam.
g. Do you think “I didn’t see him yet” would be permissible in a composition?
h. Is it the use of hyphens in “two-year-old child” obligatory?

2. Give the negative word for the following:

a. lawful o. loyal
b. permissible p. natural
c. reasonable q. functional
d. reliable
e. moral
f. legitimate
g. rational
h. consistent
i. manageable
j. pardonable necessary
k. ethical
l. essential
m. acceptable
PROGRESS TEST

1. Fill each of the blanks with a suitable word or phrase.

1. The Prime Minister really ………………………… something now before


unemployment gets too high.
2. There’s only an ………………………… chance that the match will be cancelled.
3. Dominic ………………………… possibly get home in under half an hour, could
he?
4. You really ………………………… more: you can’t stay in with your computer
all the time.
5. You’d ………………………… me a call later to tell me how it’s going.
6. I’m afraid I absolutely must ………………………… – I’m late as it is.
7. It’s so cold in here: someone ………………………… the heating off.
8. You really ………………………… work a lot harder if you want to stand any
chance of passing.
9. But I’ve just been cooking for you. You ………………………… you’d eaten
already!
10. It was very kind but you really ………………………… to so much trouble just
for me.

2. Put the corresponding letter of the right word into the blank of each sentence.

1. The prospects of picking up any survivors are now ………


a. thin b. narrow c. slim d. restricted
2. She may win and surprise us all but I wouldn’t ……… on it.
a. guess b. back c. stake d. bet
3. Hopes are ……… as to finding the missing boat.
a. darkening b. going c. fading d. draining
4. The mayor expressed strong ……… as to the necessity for the new ring road.
a. scruples b. reservation c. hesitation d. proviso
5. His happy-go-lucky attitude means that on the field he exhibits a ………
disregard for the rules.
a. required b. glaring c. permissible d. flagrant
6. The silver medalist was later ……… for running outside the lane.
a. banned b. disqualified c. disallowed d. outlawed
7. Owen’s second goal was ……… because he was offside.
a. banned b. disqualified c. disallowed d. outlawed
8. All commercial kitchens must satisfy the stringent ……… of the health
authorities.
a. requirements b. needs c. terms d. qualifications
9. I think that Tolstoy should be ……… reading for anyone interested in literature.
a. necessary b. compelled c. required d. legal
10. I suppose he could ……… have reached the summit on his own, but I doubt it.
a. conceivably b. credibly c. imaginatively d. believably
Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech
Introductory: Language Defined

Speech is so familiar a feature of daily life that we rarely pause to define it. It seems as
natural to man as walking, and only less so than breathing. Yet it needs but a moment's
reflection to convince us that this naturalness of speech is but an illusory feeling. The
process of acquiring speech is, in sober fact, an utterly different sort of thing from the
process of learning to walk. In the case of the latter function, culture, in other words, the
traditional body of social usage, is not seriously brought into play. The child is
individually equipped, by the complex set of factors that we term biological heredity, to
make all the needed muscular and nervous adjustments that result in walking. Indeed, the
very conformation of these muscles and of the appropriate parts of the nervous system
may be said to be primarily adapted to the movements made in walking and in similar
activities. In a very real sense the normal human being is predestined to walk, not
because his elders will assist him to learn the art, but because his organism is prepared
from birth, or even from the moment of conception, to take on all those expenditures of
nervous energy and all those muscular adaptations that result in walking. To put it
concisely, walking is an inherent, biological function of man.

Not so language. It is of course true that in a certain sense the individual is predestined to
talk, but that is due entirely to the circumstance that he is born not merely in nature, but
in the lap of a society that is certain, reasonably certain, to lead him to its traditions.
Eliminate society and there is every reason to believe that he will learn to walk, if,
indeed, he survives at all. But it is just as certain that he will never learn to talk, that is, to
communicate ideas according to the traditional system of a particular society. Or, again,
remove the new-born individual from the social environment into which he has come and
transplant him to an utterly alien one. He will develop the art of walking in his new
environment very much as he would have developed it in the old. But his speech will be
completely at variance with the speech of his native environment. Walking, then, is a
general human activity that varies only within circumscribed limits as we pass from
individual to individual. Its variability is involuntary and purposeless. Speech is a human
activity that varies without assignable limit as we pass from social group to social group,
because it is a purely historical heritage of the group, the product of long-continued social
usage. It varies as all creative effort varies — not as consciously, perhaps, but nonetheless
as truly as do the religions, the beliefs, the customs, and the arts of different peoples.
Walking is an organic, an instinctive, function (not, of course, itself an instinct); speech is
a non-instinctive, acquired, "cultural" function.

Sapir, Edward. "Introductory: Language defined." Chapter 1 in Language: An introduction to the study of
speech. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World (1921): 3-23.