The Grammarphobia Blog

Great and not-so-great expectations

Q: Any preferences? (1) “I suspect/expect you’ll find his work satisfactory.” (2) “I suspect/expect you’ll be pleased with the progress of her studies.” I suspect you’ll have a definitive opinion, and I expect you won’t be shy about expressing it.

A: Well, we won’t be shy about expressing our opinion, but we suspect that it won’t be as definitive as you expect.

Either verb (“suspect” or “expect”) may be used in either of those sentences, depending on how certain you are about the quality of the work (No. 1) and the progress made (No. 2).

In the sense you’re using these verbs, “suspect” is somewhat weaker than “expect,” though the two meanings overlap a bit.

For example, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says “suspect” here means “to imagine to exist or be true, likely, or probable.”

M-W’s definition of “expect” in this sense is a bit stronger: “to consider probable or certain.”

These differences in meaning may reflect the Latin roots of the two words, according to the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.

The more hesitant “suspect” ultimately comes from the Latin suspectare (to mistrust) while the more optimistic “expect” is derived from the Latin expectare (to await or hope).

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