#195: Express Doubt and Uncertainty in English [11 Phrases & Idioms]

Jan 20, 2021 | Advanced Vocabulary, Business Professional English

Have you ever listened to a coworker in a business meeting and thought, ‘Hmm, I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.’

In other words, you had some doubt, some uncertainty about what your coworker was saying. But in the end, you didn’t say anything because you didn’t want to be rude.

In today’s Confident English lesson, you’ll get 11 phrases and idioms you can use to express doubt and uncertainty so you can:

  • Stop someone else from making a bad decision with the wrong information
  • Share your doubts about something you’ve read or heard and, instead, focus on finding the truth
  • Get clarity so you can move forward with confidence
  • Request more time to think before you make a decision

Continue below with the video lesson and read along with the transcript. Then be sure to practice. Share your examples with me in the comments section below.

11 Phrases & Idioms to Express Doubt and Uncertainty in English

Full Transcript

Have you ever listened to a coworker in a business meeting and thought, ‘Hmm, I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.’ In other words, you had some doubts, some uncertainty about what your coworker was saying, but in the end, you didn’t say anything because you didn’t want to be rude.

I’m Annemarie with Speak Confident English. This is exactly where you want to be every week to get the confidence you want for your life and work in English.

In this video today, I want to help you know exactly how to express your doubt or uncertainty in English for four reasons.

First, you can stop someone else from making a terrible decision with the wrong information. If you have doubts about a decision someone is making, or you know that someone is using incorrect information to make that decision, it’s important to step in. In this video today, you’ll learn how to do that and do it politely.

Secondly, you may read or hear something that you doubt is true. And in today’s lesson, you’ll learn several phrases and idioms you can use to express those doubts.

The third reason this is important is you might hear me or another English teacher share some wonderful new expression phrase or idiom, or maybe a grammar point. And you’re not exactly sure how to use it. By expressing doubt, you’ll be able to get the clarity you need so that you can use what you’re learning correctly and with confidence.

And finally, the fourth reason today’s video is important is you may need to make a choice about something and you’re feeling some doubt about it. You’re just not sure what the right decision is. As you go through that process, you might want to share those doubts with others, or you may want to request more time to think about it.

In today’s Confident English lesson, you’ll get 11 phrases and idioms you can use to express doubt and uncertainty.

As we go through the lesson today, I will give you practical examples of how to use the phrases or idioms you’re going to learn. If you want more examples, I recommend visiting the lesson I have on the Speak Confident English website. And you can get a link to that just below the video.

The first several phrases or idioms on our list today, all deal with sharing your doubts or uncertainties about something you’ve read or heard.

For example, if you’re in a business meeting and you hear someone say something that you’re just not sure about, you might respond with: “I’m not a hundred percent sure about that.”

With that sentence, you’re not directly disagreeing with them. Instead, you’re simply stating that there is a little bit of doubt. You would like more clarity or more information. For example, I’m not a hundred percent sure those budget projections are accurate, or I’m not a hundred percent sure this article or what I heard on the radio today is accurate.

A similar phrase that we can use is ‘there some doubt in my mind about…‘ There’s some doubt in my mind..

I actually love this one because I have a student who uses it often to let me know that she’s uncertain about something I’ve shared and she needs me to clarify that particular grammar point or expression that we’re working on so that she can use it correctly.

One example is “Annemarie, there’s some doubt in my mind about how to use the third conditional.”

Now, if you’ve got some doubt about the third conditional as well, you’re not alone. In fact, I just recently did a lesson on this topic and I’ll share a link to it just below this video.

Another example, there’s some doubt in my mind about the statistics they cited in that article. I’d like to see where they got their data.

Our third phrase is ‘I have some doubt about…’ I have some doubt about something you said, I have some doubt about something I heard.

This one is perfectly polite in a discussion, especially when you ask someone to clarify what they’ve just said. “I have some doubt about what you just said. Could you clarify it for me?”

Our fourth phrase to express doubt or uncertainty on something you’ve read or heard is ‘I’m not sure about…’ I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure about these data projections. I think we need to review them.

All right. Before we continue with some decision-making idioms that we use to express doubt and uncertainty. Let’s pause here for a moment. I want you to choose one of those first four phrases and write down your own example sentence.

Is there something you’ve heard someone say recently or something that you’ve read that you have a bit of doubt about? If so, go ahead and write it down using one of those phrases. And then when you’re ready, let’s go ahead and continue with our next group.

Now I want to focus on several idioms we have in English that we use when we have doubt in the decision-making process.

The first one is I’m of two minds about this. To be of two minds about something. We use this to express that we’re undecided or that we don’t feel certain about something that has two sides.

For example, if you’ve been offered a job promotion and it sounds fantastic, but it comes with so much more responsibility. And as a result, you’re going to have to work much longer hours. You may be weighing the pros and cons of that decision and in doing so you might say, “I’m of two minds on whether I should take this promotion. Of course, the promotion means a higher salary, but it also means I’ll be working so much more.”

The second idiom is I’m on the fence. To be on the fence about something. Think about sitting on a fence and how precarious that is. It would be so easy to fall on one side or the other.

Similar to being of two minds about something, when you’re on the fence, you’re undecided, you could fall either way. You may be undecided because you can’t choose between those two options. They both seem fantastic, or they’re both terrible. And there doesn’t seem to be a good choice going forward. For example, “I’m on the fence on whether we should sign this contract.”

In my Fluency School course, my students get into some in-depth discussions with each other on a variety of topics. For example, whether social media does more harm than good. If you’re not sure, if you see both positives and negative social media, you might be on the fence with that issue.

The third idiom on our list today is I’m up in the air on this. I’m up in the air. To be up in the air on something means that a decision is not yet settled. It isn’t decided. For example, the contract is still up in the air. In other words, that situation isn’t finalized or settled. Perhaps your client still has several questions and they need some clarification before they sign that document.

Another example, for most of us, our 2021 vacation plans are up in the air. We have no idea when, where, or even if we’ll be able to travel this year.

Idiom number four is to have second thoughts. We often use this one when we’ve already made a decision and we immediately regret or feel unsure about that decision. For example, maybe you’ve signed papers to buy a house that is an enormous decision to make, a huge commitment. And the moment that you’ve signed all those papers, you might immediately think, ‘Hmm, was this the right choice?’

In that moment, you might say I’m having second thoughts.

Our final idiom for expressing doubt or uncertainty in the decision-making process is to get cold feet.

We often say I got cold feet. We just talked about having second thoughts, that moment of feeling some uncertainty about a decision that you’ve made. If you have second thoughts about something and do change your mind, then you’ve gotten cold feet.

For example, initially, I planned to take the job offer, but at the very last minute I got cold feet and I turned it down.

Have you ever gotten cold feet about something? Have you ever planned to make a decision? And you did everything you needed to do to make that decision. And at the very last moment, you had those second thoughts. And in the end, you changed your mind.

If you have, I want you to share your example with me and use that idiom. You could even use both idioms to have second thoughts. And those second thoughts led into getting cold feet.

Now to finish today’s lesson, I have two more idioms for you, and these are both used when you need more time or you want input from others to help you make that decision.

The first one is to sleep on it, whether you simply want more time to think, or you truly want a good night’s sleep so that you wake up with a clear remind and the ability to make the best decision.

You might tell someone I want to sleep on it, or I need to sleep on it.

If someone is pressuring you to make a decision, you might also respond by saying, let me sleep on it. In other words, you’re requesting some time to think about it so that you can feel good about your final decision.

And our last one for today is to put some feelers out. That’s kind of a funny one. And what it means is you’re going to ask other people for input.

If you’re a team lead or a team supervisor, you may need to make a big decision. And before you do so you want to get input from your team members. So your boss might ask you, ‘Okay, what’s your final decision?’

And you might respond with, “I’d like to put some feelers out before I make that decision.” You want to find out what other people think, what their pros and cons are to help you make the best decision.

And with that, you have 11 ways to express doubt and uncertainty in English so that you can get the clarity you need to make great decisions.

If you enjoyed this week’s lesson, be sure to let me know. And you can do that in three ways.

Number one, give this lesson a thumbs up on YouTube and number two, be sure to subscribe to this channel. So you never miss one of my Confident English lessons.

And number three, if you know someone who is also working to have more confidence in their English skills, be sure to share this lesson with them. And you can do that by email or Facebook, have a wonderful week.

Thank you so much for joining me. And I look forward to seeing you next time for your Confident English lesson.

As always, the best way to learn and remember new idioms is to get consistent, repeated practice. And here’s your chance!

Choose 2-3 of your favorite new expressions from today’s lesson. Then use them in your own example sentences. 

As always, you can share with me in the comments below. It’s the best way to practice, get feedback, and learn from others in the Confident English Community.

~ Annemarie

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