Definition of likely in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈlʌɪkli/

adjective (likelier, likeliest)

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
More example sentences
  • It is likely that many Australian homes do not even have a Bible, and those that do, leave it unread.
  • If the legs move at each strain it is likely that the cow will calve without too much trouble.
  • We are still finalising the design but it is likely that these specific premises will be affected.
probable, distinctly possible, to be expected, odds-on, on, possible, credible, plausible, believable, within the bounds of possibility, imaginable;
expected, anticipated, natural, prospective, predictable, predicted, foreseeable, ten to one, liable;
sure, destined, fated;
in the wind, in the air
informal on the cards, a pound to a penny
2Apparently suitable; promising: a likely-looking spot
More example sentences
  • Fay's apparent sweet tooth is likely to be rooted in a problem with blood sugar balance.
  • I was just in a foul mood or something like that, most likely, so accept my humblest apologies.
  • One reason for Essex's likely limitation on imported labour is the high cost of housing.
suitable, appropriate, apposite, fit, fitting, acceptable, proper, right;
reasonable, promising, hopeful
likely to succeed, promising, talented, gifted
informal up-and-coming


Probably: we will most likely go to a bar
More example sentences
  • By the laws of probability, the culprit was most likely an obnoxious American tourist.
  • Maybe even him, if he was strong enough, but more then likely the older females would fight.
  • I explained it was most likely the blonde hair making my skin colour look different in contrast.
probably, in all probability, presumably, no doubt, doubtlessly
informal like enough, (as) like as not


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!’
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

as likely as not

Probably: I won’t take their pills, because as likely as not they’d poison me
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • References to almost every field of knowledge, from archaeology to zoology, are as likely as not to be wrong.

not likely!

informal Certainly not; I refuse: ‘Are you going home?’ ‘Not likely!’



Example sentences
  • These questions address different aspects of confidence relating to the size of bribes, the possibility of additional requests, and the likeliness of opportunism.
  • A final possibility centres around a likeliness that exercise success here was more due to the presence of fun and enjoyment, than the use of distraction.
  • Yet another problem is the high degree of likeliness that a defendant possibly subject to the death penalty if found guilty will be found guilty.


Middle English: from Old Norse líkligr, from líkr (see like1).

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: like¦ly

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.