If you’re in a hurry, click here to get to the difference between “sans doute” and “sans aucun doute” right away. If you’re not, pour yourself a cup of coffee and read on for a more casual discussion.
Dictionaries sometimes don’t tell the truth… or at least not the whole truth.
Not on purpose, of course. It’s more like some entries would need some additional, thorough explanation, and it’s just not always included in dictionaries.
The entries for sans doute and sans aucun doute tend to be like this. There is an important difference between them, but some dictionaries would lead you to believe that they are synonyms. Which they are not.
Let’s see a good example of how a dictionary presents the meaning of sans doute and sans aucun doute. This is from the Wordreference French—English dictionary, which tends to be a super reliable and trustworthy source:
This is as straightforward as it gets. What’s more, it’s absolutely correct, too. Something is still missing, though, and that’s an explanation. While the difference is there, you probably won’t see it unless you sit down and take good long look at it. And let’s be honest: most people don’t have all day to stare at and analyze subtle differences between dictionary entries.
But if you look at these entries attentively, you’ll see that they do convey different meanings. The biggest giveaways are the French words given as synonyms (to the right of sans doute / sans aucun doute): probablement and certainement/ assurément.
If you miss that, your chances of getting these two expressions right will plummet. If you don’t, you’re on the right path to get these two expressions right. Or any other two expressions for that matter.
You probably get the gist – being observant pays off. But you’re here for that explanation most dictionaries don’t have, so here you go!
The explanation: the difference between sans doute and sans aucun doute
Sans doute suggests a very strong probability or subjective certitude (“I’m sure that…”), while sans aucun doute conveys a sense of total certitude.
Use sans aucun doute if you’re a hundred percent sure in what you say and it’s possible to prove it – otherwise go with the simpler sans doute.
Yes, that’s a bit confusing, beacause sans doute literally means “without doubt”. It turns out there can be some room for doubt after all – which you can eliminate entirely by inserting the word aucun (“none”, “not one”) in the middle. You should also use sans doute if you don’t have/ it’s not possible to provide any proof for what you’re claiming.
It’s important to note that sans doute isn’t an equivalent of peut-être (“perhaps”). If somebody uses sans doute, that person is sure about something that they can’t necessarily prove.