I guess or I'm guessing

I guess or I'm guessing

By Alena Lien, 

17 December 2020



The verb, "guess," has a few definitions. It can mean:

  • to estimate or conclude without sufficient information and cannot be certain of being correct.

  • to give the correct answer or make the correct judgement.

  • to think or believe.


When we use "guess," we can imply different things by using either the simple or continuous tenses.



Please note:

"I guess" is often used as an idiomatic expression by native English speakers. It has its own specific uses and cannot be used in continuous tenses. To avoid confusion, I will not include them here.



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Differences


1.   "I guess" = give an answer or express an opinion; "I'm guessing" = the action of making a guess.


The verb, "guess," can be used as a dynamic and stative verb, even though it's often classified as a stative verb only.


Dynamic (action) verbs indicate action or progress.


On the other hand, stative (event) verbs are used to indicate a state or condition - that don't show qualities of change or progress.



As a stative verb, "guess" can mean to give an answer with insufficient information.


  • "I guessed all the answers because I didn't study."

  • "Can you guess how old she is?"



Or it can mean to express an opinion or belief.

  • "I guess I better start walking or I'll miss my bus."



As a dynamic verb, "guess" refers to the action of making a guess.


So this has an aspect of thinking or deliberating.


  • "Give him the answer already, he's been guessing for 20 minutes."

  • "I'd say she looks 30, but I'm only guessing."



2.   "I'm guessing" = an action in progress at the time of speaking.


This is specifically referring to the uses of the present continuous tense. So this is quite different from the action of guessing.


  • "I'm guessing there's a total of 254 jelly beans."

  • "Scientists are still guessing what caused the Big Bang."



3.   "I'm guessing" = to express exaggeration or add emphasis.


It is true that native English speakers will often use stative verbs in continuous tenses to express exaggeration or add emphasis.


Although "guess" can be used as a dynamic verb and is acceptably used in continuous tenses, using the present participle implies exaggeration and emphasises the speaker's act of guessing. To me, it also implies more uncertainty, but this is not always obvious.



Compare the following:


  • "I guessed all the answers because I didn't study."

  • "I was guessing all the answers because I didn't study."


  • "I guess she's about 25."

  • "I'm guessing she's about 25."




Related expression


"Keep someone guessing" (idiom) - to cause someone to be uncertain, usually by withholding information.




See also: