Definition of likely in English:



  • 1Such as well might happen or be true; probable.

    ‘speculation on the likely effect of opting out’
    with clause ‘it was likely that he would make a televised statement’
    with infinitive ‘sales are likely to drop further’
    • ‘It is likely that only some of our sample will agree to participate in the research.’
    • ‘It is likely that any sanctions will be limited to travel bans and freezing of overseas accounts.’
    • ‘It is likely that many staff are already helping disabled customers as a matter of course.’
    • ‘Priest's conclusion was that it was likely that the metal was present in the food chain.’
    • ‘It is likely that there are other chaperones that function in a similar manner.’
    • ‘In that event it is likely that our own government will commit British troops in support.’
    • ‘All being well, it is likely that we'll see Hedgehunter back to challenge next year.’
    • ‘In the event of a pandemic, it is likely that only infected people will be given the antivirals.’
    • ‘An committee spokeswoman said it was likely that the York office would be closed by the end of the year.’
    • ‘It is likely that many Australian homes do not even have a Bible, and those that do, leave it unread.’
    • ‘It is likely that the unit will be based in their new control trailer, which is due to be completed next month.’
    • ‘If the legs move at each strain it is likely that the cow will calve without too much trouble.’
    • ‘It is likely that most of the conspirators had details of the plot drip-fed to them as the need arose.’
    • ‘It is likely that O'Hara will be the only member of that side selected for Walker Cup duty.’
    • ‘It is likely that the coverage achieved in other surveillance systems is similar or lower.’
    • ‘If the London bid fails then it is likely that a decision on an alternative host city will be made by next spring.’
    • ‘We are still finalising the design but it is likely that these specific premises will be affected.’
    • ‘A pathologist said it was likely that the boy had the condition for several days.’
    • ‘If there were fewer drug addicts, it is likely that there would be fewer criminal offences.’
    • ‘It is likely that the various schemes would be paid for with a mix of public cash and private investment.’
    probable, distinctly possible, to be expected, odds-on, on, possible, credible, plausible, believable, within the bounds of possibility, imaginable
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  • 2Apparently suitable; promising.

    ‘a likely-looking spot’
    • ‘People are more likely to accept risks when they feel that they are in the driving seat.’
    • ‘Most of the rest is likely to be in bonds and gilts with cash and property making up the balance.’
    • ‘He had visited each member state to find out what major project was likely to be accepted by all of them.’
    • ‘The most likely reason is that it falls across some heat gradient in the house structure itself.’
    • ‘One likely reason is that at the end of the day Bill just loves a good old-fashioned scrap.’
    • ‘Use a bait that you have confidence in, and is likely to be accepted from the off.’
    • ‘Lenhoff thinks defensive shares are likely to continue to do well for three reasons.’
    • ‘Had the report been accepted it is highly likely that the current crisis would have been avoided.’
    • ‘Would it just have been more likely to have happened for some reason in this area?’
    • ‘It was my room, and the most likely reason he had stopped was that it was a bit of mess.’
    • ‘It is assumed that any blend of wines from the same property is likely to be harmonious.’
    • ‘One reason for Essex's likely limitation on imported labour is the high cost of housing.’
    • ‘They may reason that they are more likely to die from malaria or be bitten by a snake well before then.’
    • ‘The sources the government prefers are likely to be seriously biased for several reasons.’
    • ‘Fay's apparent sweet tooth is likely to be rooted in a problem with blood sugar balance.’
    • ‘His opinion is not binding but is likely to be accepted by the court later this year.’
    • ‘There is reason to suppose the Court of Appeal would be likely to reach any contrary view.’
    • ‘I think a more likely reason is that many of his posts are failing the Boring Man in a Bar Test.’
    • ‘He accepted the Pythagorean position that a successful fit is not likely to be a coincidence.’
    • ‘I was just in a foul mood or something like that, most likely, so accept my humblest apologies.’
    suitable, appropriate, apposite, fit, fitting, acceptable, proper, right
    likely to succeed, promising, talented, gifted
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  • Probably.

    ‘we will most likely go to a bar’
    • ‘More than likely they'll do this via the telecommunications grid through a phone socket.’
    • ‘By the laws of probability, the culprit was most likely an obnoxious American tourist.’
    • ‘Even if moving toward songwriting made it more likely I could cross over to the mainstream.’
    • ‘I explained it was most likely the blonde hair making my skin colour look different in contrast.’
    • ‘On overseas pitches he has at times been the only Indian likely to get any wickets at all.’
    • ‘The case for affirmative action in Bermuda has likely been set back by years.’
    • ‘Now, it seems increasingly likely that you will soon topple sideways off the sofa arm and into the bin.’
    • ‘She thanked her supporters for running a "gentlemanly" campaign, but, she said, taking the high road on the campaign trail likely cost her votes.’
    • ‘Quite likely you'll end up with a broken arm, and at your age it will be a nasty break indeed.’
    • ‘We thought, if we could get just one wall, it was likely we'd be able to hold on to it.’
    probably, in all probability, presumably, no doubt, doubtlessly
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In standard British English, when likely is used as an adverb it must be preceded by a submodifier such as very, most, or more, as in we will most likely see him later. In informal US English, use without a submodifier is very common and not regarded as incorrect, as in we will likely see him later


  • a likely story

    • Used to express disbelief of an account or excuse.

      ‘‘She's your lodger? A likely story!’’
      • ‘The Timaeus, however, presents itself not as serious cosmology but merely as a likely story, an example of the kind of account that Plato thinks is the right one to give; it is poetic and grandiose in style.’
      • ‘We knew your Government was seeking overseas bases, so we cooked up a likely story.’
      • ‘Craccum: rehashing news from the Dominion Post on the legal action, and ignoring a likely story about why the University of Auckland was the best in the country - research wise at least.’
      • ‘One of the characteristics of a reasonable explanation is that it be a likely story.’
      • ‘The gentleman told me his name was ‘John’, a likely story, I thought to myself and that it was his ‘sixth day at the gym’.’
      unlikely, implausible, unbelievable, incredible, untenable, unacceptable, inconceivable
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  • as likely as not

    • Probably.

      ‘I won't take their pills, because as likely as not they'd poison me’
      • ‘This is just as likely as not to be due to a badly organised office.’
      • ‘But a speeding motorist can kill an innocent child, and as likely as not, they will only face a small fine, points on their licence ó if they have one ó and a short driving ban.’
      • ‘But in the big picture, it's as likely as not that he's looking to patch, not break, things up.’
      • ‘If you're passing a truck driver on the road today, give them a wave because as likely as not, they'll be mourning the death of a troubadour they called their own, Slim Dusty.’
      • ‘Books on Italian Renaissance prints do not come along very often, and when they do, as likely as not they are catalogues.’
      • ‘Even if somebody out there ends up reading what we write, as likely as not we'll complain that they've missed the point.’
      • ‘Stubborn insistence on such a strategy is as likely as not to end in one's own defeat.’
      • ‘However that may be, people who commit offences of this kind must understand that as likely as not, their lives and livelihood will be disrupted once the offence has been detected.’
      • ‘References to almost every field of knowledge, from archaeology to zoology, are as likely as not to be wrong.’
      • ‘Thus, part one of this book adopts the premise that natural theology shows it is at least as likely as not that there is a God of the sort argued for by classical theism.’
  • not likely!

    • informal Certainly not; I refuse.

      ‘‘Are you going home?’ ‘Not likely!’’


Middle English: from Old Norse líkligr, from líkr (see like).