‘Possibly’ means that we’re not going to the game.

I published this post a little while ago on my previous blog. Just to have some continuity, I am reposting it onto this blog.

Much research has been done on modality and modal adverbs. As to the epistemic domain, it is often said that ‘possibly’ denotes a 50% likelihood that something is true and that ‘probably’ expresses high likelihood. As such, ‘possibly’ has been related to the modal verb ‘may/might’. While watching a film (The Pursuit of Happyness) the other day, I could not help but be fascinated by the following dialogue (bold is emphasis in speech, cursive are the modal markers):


Father: And maybe we’re going to the game.

Son: Where are we going now?

Father: Just to see someone about my job.

Son: I don’t understand.

Father: You don’t understand what?

Son: Are we going to the game?

Father: I said possibly we’re going to the game. You know what possiblymeans?

Son: Like probably?

Father: No, probably means there’s a good chance that we’re going to the game. And possibly means we mightwe might not. What does probably mean?

Son: It means we have a good chance.

Father: And what does possibly mean?

Son: I know what possibly means.

Father: What does it mean?

Son: It means that we’re not going to the game.

This little dialogue is a beautiful reflection of the subtle nuances of the English modal system, where ‘maybe’, ‘possibly’ and ‘might’ are linked and opposed to the present progressive tense and the adverb ‘probably’. Even more, where ‘possibly’ is related to the negative. I don’t have that much to say about this – because I should actually be writing a paper – but thought it was a particularly interesting bit of the film to share with you interested readers!



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