How to use: adjectives for probability

To speak about probability we can use adjectives such as probable, likely, possible and certain. It’s a short list, and one that learners can quite easily memorise and use.

The opposites are easy to get too, simply by using prefixes:

  • possibleimpossible
  • likelyunlikely
  • probableimprobable.

Scale of probability

Let’s look at scale of probability, going from inevitable (meaning ‘certain to happen’, ‘unavoidable’) to impossible.

Example sentences

  • After the team lost ten matches in a row, It was inevitable that they would fire the coach.
    [100 per cent, unavoidable]
  • The weather forecast says that a big storm is likely later this week.
    [a high probability]
  • Most people think it’s unlikely we’ll all own self-driving cars within the next five years.
    [a low probability]
  • It’s impossible to stay long under water without oxygen.
    [zero probability, cannot happen]

Adverbs to intensify

We can use an adverb such as highly or very before the adjective to intensify the probability.

You can see below that not all the adverbs work with each adjective:


Be careful – quite is usually a moderate word (quite nice, quite good). However, when we say ‘quite impossible’, quite means ‘totally’ or ‘completely’.

Examples of adverb + adjective

When we add adverbs, we get sentences like these:

  • I think it’s highly unlikely that he’ll invite me to his party: he doesn’t like me.
  • It’s quite probable that we will lose customers if we increase our prices.

There are, of course, other ways to speak about probability in English. You can check out modal verbs here, and I’ll look at adverbials for probability in a future post. Probably 😉

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

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