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From Middle French impossibilité, from Latin impossibilitās; synchronically analyzable as im- +‎ possibility and impossible +‎ -ity.



impossibility (countable and uncountable, plural impossibilities)

  1. Something that is impossible.
    Meeting the deadline is an impossibility; there is no way we can be ready in time.
  2. (uncountable) The quality of being impossible.
    • 1548, Edward Hall, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, London: Richard Grafton, Henry VIII, year 15,[2]
      After long reasonyng, there wer certain appoynted, to declare the impossibilite of this demaunde to the Cardinal,
    • c. 1608–1609 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Coriolanus”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene iii]:
      [L]et the mutinous winds / Strike the proud cedars ’gainst the fiery sun; / Murdering impossibility, to make / What cannot be, slight work.
    • 1749, [John Cleland], “(Please specify the letter or volume)”, in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure [Fanny Hill], London: [] G. Fenton [i.e., Fenton and Ralph Griffiths] [], →OCLC:
      [H]e threw himself upon her, and his back being now towards me, I could only take his being ingulph'd for granted, by the directions he mov'd in, and the impossibility of missing so staring a mark []
    • 1838, [Edgar Allan Poe], chapter XXII, in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. [], New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], →OCLC, page 173:
      But the utter impossibility of succeeding in this desperate task soon became evident.
    • 1937, George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier[3], New York: Harcourt, Brace, published 1958, Part 1, Chapter 4, p. 61:
      Ever since the war, in the complete impossibility of getting houses, parts of the population have overflowed into supposedly temporary quarters in fixed caravans.
  3. (obsolete) The state of being unable to do something.
    Synonyms: inability, incapability, helplessness
    • 1562, Hugh Latimer, 27 Sermons Preached by [] Hugh Latimer, London: John Day, Sermon 7 p. 45,[4]
      Here by this petition whan we say, Leade vs not into temptation, we learne to know our own impossibilitie and infirmitie, namely that we bee not able of our owne selues to with∣stand this great and mightye enemye the deuill.
    • 1607, Joseph Hall, Holy Observations, Lib. 1[5], London: Samuel Macham, 59, p. 85:
      [] out of their own torment, they [the damned] see the felicitie of the saints; togither with their impossibility of attayning it.
    • 1652, Thomas Fuller, A Comment on the Eleven First Verses of the Fourth Chapter of S. Matthew’s Gospel[6], London: George Eversden, Sermon 7, p. 105:
      Many texts present him [Satan] with sadness, partly from his incapability of salvation, for want of a Saviour; partly from his impossibility to repent, because of his implacable and invincible malice.



Coordinate terms[edit]