How sure should I be when I say 'I believe ~'?

A reader emailed me this question:

Can you help me with "I believe" please? – which I'm sure suggests that "I'm not entirely sure about what I'm going to say", but at the same time, is it based on my knowledge or experience. 

When I say "I believe that~", does it mean that I'm "just guessing" or more than that? Wondering how sure I should be when I'm using ‘I believe’?

The different meanings of "I believe"

To understand "I believe", you need to know that it can mean a two completely different things. 

  1. "This is my strongly held opinion."
  2. "This might be true, but might not be."

"I believe" for discussing your beliefs

People use "I believe ___" to talk about their beliefs. A "belief" is something that you strongly feel is true, although some people disagree and it can't be proven. For example:

I believe that God is watching over us.

This is a religious belief that a lot of people share. Most beliefs have to do with religion, philosophy, morality, or politics.

"I believe" for things you're not sure about

If you have information that you're not completely sure about, you can say "I believe ___". 

You can use this version of "I believe ___" when:

  • you can't clearly remember something
  • you got information from someone but haven't confirmed its accuracy

For example:

I believe he's at a meeting.

How to tell the difference

When English speakers share their strong opinions, they stress the word "I" or a later part of the sentence:

I believe that everyone should have access to free health care.

When they're not sure about something, they stress "believe":

I believe it's spelled with a "K".

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