emphasizing adverbs
Lady in a stunning hat

Aydyn Türk from Turkey writes:

I have been learning English for eight months but some adjectives and adverbs are still a problem for me, especially adverbs such as absolutely, definitely, certainly, exactly, etc. These mean almost the same thing in Turkish and I don't know when to use them in English or which one to use. If you gave me some examples that would help me.

Thanks a lot.


Roger Woodham replies:


There is not very much difference in meaning or in use when these emphasizing adjectives are used to express strong agreement with a statement, question or suggestion.

Absolutely is perhaps the strongest. If you use exactly, you are emphasizing that what someone has said is 100% correct.

Compare the following:

  • Doesn't Sandra look stunning in that hat?
    Oh, absolutely! I couldn't agree more.
  • Geoffrey is a complete and utter fool.
    Absolutely! / Definitely! / Exactly!
  • Will you come shopping with me on Saturday?
    Definitely! / Certainly!
  • If we can't find those tickets, we shan't be able to get into the show.
  • Are you going to Turkey again this summer?
    Definitely! Without a doubt!


These emphasizing adverbs are normally used with adjectives that are in themselves already quite absolute. They give even greater emphasis to what is said.

Compare the following:

  • Your advice was invaluable ?absolutely invaluable!
  • I was simply amazed when she said that she was going to marry Henry.
  • It was perfectly clear that she was serious and I was totally powerless to stop her.
  • I felt that she was completely wrong to even think about it and I am utterly exhausted by it all.

completely or quite

Note that quite can mean very much or completely. It can also mean fairly or to some extent.

Compare the following:

  • Are you quite certain that Jack's in Paris? Completely sure?
    I'm absolutely sure.
  • Are you coming to the pub?
    No, I'm quite tired, a bit sleepy. I think I’ll go to bed.

certainly or surely

When it is used in response to a request or suggestion, surely means certainly and they can be used interchangeably.

Compare the following:

  • Can you give me a hand washing up?
    Surely! / Certainly! / No problem!
  • Would you join us for supper tonight?
    Surely! Where are you eating?

However, surely can also be used to express the speaker's surprise that something is happening. Certainly CANNOT be used in this way.

Study the following and, as you say them to yourselves, give surely fairly heavy stress:

  • You’re surely not going out again tonight, are you? You went out last night.
  • Surely that can't be Felicity standing over there? I thought she was in Australia.
  • I can't get any reply, but there's surely somebody at home. They can't all be out.
  • Surely you’re not suggesting she poisoned him on purpose?
    I can't believe you could think that!


If you want to practise using some of these words look at our board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.