4. Werden in Probability Statements

The verb werden can furthermore be used with an infinitive and usually the word wohl, but sometimes doch or schon, to express probability. As you see below, the examples look exactly like future tense and future perfect statements. The difference is the addition of wohl, doch, or schon, which may change the meaning dramatically.

A present tense probability statement:

Er wird wohl Deutsch studieren.
He is probably studying German. [or:] He is probably a German major.

A past tense probability statement:

Er wird wohl Deutsch studiert haben.
He probably (studied / has studied) German.

Despite initial appearances regarding verb tense, if you decide that a qualifying statement is more sensible as a probability statement, then you interpret the verb tense differently.

Follow these steps whenever you see a sentence that looks like a future or future perfect statement that contains wohl, doch or schon as an adverb:

  1. Attempt to translate the sentence with both the verb tense (future or future perfect) and wohl/doch/schon in their "normal" meanings.
  2. Separately, also attempt to translate the sentence as a probability statement, in which case two meanings change:
    1. Understand the verb tense as present instead of what looks like future, or as past instead of what looks like future perfect.
    2. Understand wohl/doch/schon as the "probability" adverb: "probably / surely / likely" etc.
  3. Pick the reading (step #1 or #2) that makes more sense. If they both could make sense, then pick #2. In other words, generally werden + doch/schon/wohl
  4. indicates a probability statement (option #2), unless that doesn’t make real-world sense.

Work out your own translations of the seven examples on this page to experience this decision-making process.

More examples:

Der spricht aber fließend! Er wird doch Deutsch studieren!?
Wow, that guy speaks fluently! Surely he’s a German major!?

Morgen werden sie dir schon die Wahrheit sagen.
I’m confident they will tell you the truth tomorrow. (Note: not a probability statement, just regular future tense and regular schon.)

Sie werden dir schon viel Geld gekostet haben.
They likely cost you a lot of money.

Das wird wohl nicht wahr sein.
That’s likely not true.

Das Projekt wird im Herbst wohl gut gehen.
The project is likely going to go well in the fall. (Note: not a probability statement, just regular future tense and regular wohl.)

Last revised on October 15, 2018.