When I look up the word наверное I always see two definitions:

  1. Probably, most likely
  2. Certainly, for sure

These two definitions mean completely different things to me but I don't know how to interpret what is meant based on context.

Ты читала эту книгу?
Наверное нет.

Is she saying that she definitely hasn't read the book, or that she isn't sure but probably hasn't? How do I interpret sentences with наверное in general?

3 Answers 3


In modern Russian наверное means "probably but I am not sure". But is seems like that in times of Tolstoy it meant possibly both or just "for sure" - many who read classical Russian literature could confirm that.

On the other note the word наверняка, which is of the same root, means "definitely" or "for sure". Which is kinda puzzling indeed.


answer to your quote would be "that she isn't sure but probably hasn't?"

"Наверное" - brings uncertainty in to the sentence and than flowing word is defining whether its more yes or no ...

translation would be the same that you have.

  • Welcome to Russian Language and Usage Beta! Please try not to post redundant information from other answers. If you agree with an existing answer, the proper way to show that you support the idea is by upvoting. If you are still unable, invest time in the site to reach the privileges.
    – c.p.
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 14:02

When it is an adverb (modifying something), it means certainly, as in "я наверно придумаю что-нибудь плохое," which means "I will certainly come up with something bad."

When it is separated by punctuation, typically commas (or pauses in speech), it means probably. I would have written the answer as "Наверно, нет." For instance, take Okudzhava's Song About Combat Boots:

А где же наше мужество, солдат, 
когда мы возвращаемся назад? 
Его, наверно, женщины крадут, 
и, как птенца, за пазуху кладут.

Of course, lots of confusion exists. For example, the Russian Wiki entry for the comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy is punctuated. But the meaning is almost the same.

I think the negation in your example is making the difference between the two loom large. Certainty, roughly speaking, is just probability going to one. An example of this is "almost sure/certain convergence" in math, which is translated as "почти наверное сходимость" in K. A. Borovkov's English-Russian Dictionary on Probability, Statistics, and Combinatorics, 1994.

  • So is п.н. as standard an abbreviation in Russian work on probability as a.s. is in English?
    – KCd
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 0:34
  • I've definitely seen it. You can see an example here: nsu.ru/mmf/tvims/chernova/tv/lec/node53.html
    – dimitriy
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 0:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.