In some school textbooks, before introducing the probability as a number between $0$ and $1$, the words "likely", "More likely", "less likely" etc. are used to indicate the likelihood of an event. Why are these words chosen and not the words "probable", "more probable", "less probable"? Is it intentional to avoid words having common origin with the word "probability"?

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    $\begingroup$ Just to me, "likely" feels like a gut instinct word, while "probable" feels like careful reasoning. "Likely" may be intended to link to people's instinctual understanding of when things are likely or not. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Feb 20, 2015 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ I agree Richard. To me using probable creates an image about the chance of a single event happening or not. Likely has an inbuilt comparison of two competing events somehow. That's just the connotations I attach with the words. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Feb 20, 2015 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


Textbooks tend to try to use the language that would be familiar to readers. In natural speech the use of "likely" is much more prevalent than that of "probable". Interestingly, though, according to Google N-Grams, that hasn't always been the case, with "probable" and "likely" starting nearly level in popularity in 1800: Language Trajectories

And yes, as you mentioned, as students mature, we can move them towards sentences like: "x has a greater probability than y" more easily from the use of "likely".


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