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From Old Norse líkligr, from líkr (like, similar).



likely (comparative likelier or more likely, superlative likeliest or most likely)

  1. probable; having a greater-than-even chance of occurring
    Rain is likely later this afternoon.
  2. probable
    They are likely to become angry with him.
    • 2013 April 9, Andrei Lankov, “Stay Cool. Call North Korea’s Bluff.”, in New York Times[1]:
      People who talk about an imminent possibility of war seldom pose this question: What would North Korea’s leadership get from unleashing a war that they are likely to lose in weeks, if not days?
  3. appropriate, suitable; believable; having a good potential
    Jones is a likely candidate for management.
  4. plausible; Within the realm of credibility
    not a very likely excuse.
    • 2011 December 19, Kerry Brown, “Kim Jong-il obituary”, in The Guardian[2]:
      The DPRK propagated an extraordinary tale of his birth occurring on Mount Baekdu, one of Korea's most revered sites, being accompanied by shooting stars in the sky. It is more likely that he was born in a small village in the USSR, while his father was serving as a Soviet-backed general during the second world war.
  5. promising; Apt to achieve success or yield a desired outcome
    a likely topic for investigation.
  6. attractive; pleasant
    found a likely spot under a shady tree for the picnic.
  7. (as predicate, followed by to and infinitive) Reasonably to be expected; apparently destined.
    He is likely to succeed at anything he tries.
    • 2011 November 3, Chris Bevan, “Rubin Kazan 1 - 0 Tottenham”, in BBC Sport[3]:
      In truth, Tottenham never really looked like taking all three points and this defeat means they face a battle to reach the knockout stages -with their next home game against PAOK Salonika on 30 November likely to prove decisive.
  8. (obsolete) Similar; like; alike.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Spenser to this entry?)


  • (as predicate, followed by "to" and infinitive): liable


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likely (comparative more likely, superlative most likely) (US)

  1. (obsolete) Similarly.
  2. Probably.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 1, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      Thinks I to myself, “Sol, you're run off your course again. This is a rich man's summer ‘cottage’ and if you don't look out there's likely to be some nice, lively dog taking an interest in your underpinning.”
    Likely he'll win the election in this economy.

Usage notes[edit]

  • The adverb is a US usage and does not appear in British English except under direct influence of US practice.
  • As an adverb, likely is often preceded by a modifier such as most or quite.
  • Some usage guides consider adverbial likely - instead of probably - to be poor style and an artificial, sometimes pretentious way to imply a sense of erudition. One can also opt for the somewhat rarer adverbial form likelily.



likely (plural likelies)

  1. Something or somebody considered likely.


Most common English words before 1923 in Project Gutenberg: attempt · soft · officers · #832: likely · beneath · conversation · music