でしょう is one word I remember reading about in a Japanese textbook and not quite grasping it’s meaning immediately. だろう is it’s less-polite counterpart but to simplify things I’ll be focusing on でしょう for most of this article.
I’ll try to explain their usage and nuances in as simple a way as possible, without resorting to any other websites or books for my explanation. I’ll just rely on my experience actually using and hearing these words, as I typically do when writing blog posts about Japanese.
でしょう, in a nutshell, represents a possibility felt by the speaker or someone else. Depending on the tone of voice used and context, it can be a mild hunch, a simple “maybe”, or a strong feeling about something. As usual, descriptions like this only go so far, so let’s get to some example sentences.
First, I’ll talk about when でしょう is used with a neutral intonation, meaning that the end of the word is flat and without much emotion. Like take this line which could come from a weather report.
- Tomorrow will probably be sunny.
You might be curious about what sort of probability this represents. Is it 5o/50? Or more like 75/25? It’s hard to say that for all cases, you just have to go by context. But I would say generally でしょう represents something that is over 50% likely, as perceived by the speaker.
If you want to connect this type of sentence to another thought, you can use けど.
- Google is probably a great company, but it is not perfect.
If you want to express you feel strongly about a supposition, you can raise the intonation at the end of でしょう, as if you were asking a question aggressively. The end of the word can get cut off so it sounds closer to でしょ.
- This cake is tasty, right? (with a feeling of “I told you so!”)
The sentence here has the connotation that the speaker told the listener that this cake was tasty previously, and now the listener is actually trying it out. In a sense you could say the speaker is bragging about the cake, as if he/she made it him/herself.
Because of this strong connotation, you should be careful to not overuse this word and sound like you are over-pushy. One expression I substitute when I want to sound less aggressive is (~ですよね？）.
On the other hand, I have also heard “でしょう？” used when someone is enumerating a list of things, and doesn’t necessary have an attachment to the items. Imagine someone asked which animals are commonly at a zoo:
- Let’s see… Elephant, right? And then giraffe, right?
Combining でしょう with the question particle か (discussed here) gives the opposite impression, that you are doubting something. The intonation is also different and closer to the neutral “~でしょう。”.
- You say that television is educational? Is that really true?
Another useful combination with a particle is でしょう + ね. Here it gives the impression that the speaker is sort of thinking out loud, or agreeing to something without necessarily having a strong feeling about it. Oftentimes I think of this in terms of the english expression “I bet”.
- I bet there are many people who want to travel to Hawaii.
だろう technically means the same thing as でしょう, but it has a much stronger nuance and I’ve heard it most often used by men. In order to avoid rubbing someone the wrong way I usually use でしょう, even when I am speaking in non-polite Japanese. For example:
- I’ve worked all day and am super tired. You are too, right?
One expression which younger people tend to use that has a similar feeling is “じゃん”, which is a shortening of “じゃない”。
- Why don’t you buy a playstation 4?
- Because they’re expensive!