Likely: An English Word You’re Likely to Need!

Learn how to to talk about probability in English with the word likely. It’s a word you’re likely to need!
In this video you’ll learn the common structures and collocations we use with likely and see how we use them in action. You’ll also learn an idiom where we always use it ironically.
And finally you’ll learn what happens to a marshmallow if you cook it in the microwave for 60 seconds. Mmmm. Irresistable!

Click here to learn how to talk about possibilities with if and in case.
Click here to learn some more ways we talk about the future.

An important word for talking about what’s probable

In today’s lesson we’re going to perform an experiment.
We’re going to cook this marshmallow in the microwave.
What do you think is likely to happen?
Yeah, what’s the likely outcome – the likely result?
Keep watching and you’ll find out.

Here’s a word you’re likely to need. What kind of word is it? An adjective? An adverb? It looks like an adverb, and it can be, but it can also be an adjective. Likely means probable or expected. So a likely outcome or result is one we think is probable.
We use likely is several different ways so let’s see some examples.

A giant storm has hit the north east of the US from Washington all the way up to Boston. Many school are closed, flights are canceled and wide-scale damage is more than likely. Let’s check in with our correspondent in Philadelphia, Vicki Hollett. Vicki, tell us all about this snow.
Hello Jay. As you can see we’re in the middle of a big storm here. They’re saying we’re very likely to get a foot of snow today with strong winds topping 60 miles per hour. It’s also likely there will be power outages.
The snow looks very pretty but the forecast is serious, right?
Yes. This snow isn’t light and fluffy. It’s wet, heavy snow. And that means when it accumulates on the branches, they’re likely to bend and break and that can bring down power lines creating more chaos.
So it’s unlikely that things will be back to normal any time soon. Is there any news on when the snow’s going to stop?
Yes. It’s not likely to stop until late tonight, with the winds getting worse. Oh my!
OK, thanks Vicki. Stay safe out there and keep warm. Vicki? Vicki?

We saw lots of examples there. Here’s the first pattern to note and it’s very common. We can use likely in front of verbs – notice the infinitive forms of verbs.

They’re saying we’re very likely to get a foot of snow today.
When it accumulates on the braches, they’re likely to bend and break.

So ‘to get’ – ‘to bend’, infinitive forms of verbs.
And notice that ‘very’. If we want to add emphasis, we use adverbs like very, highly, extremely, quite, and it makes the meaning stronger. These words all collocate with likely which means you’ll often see them together, and the phrases all mean we think something is very probable. Here’s a similar one.

Many schools are closed, flights are canceled and wide-scale damage is more than likely.

If something is ‘more than likely’ then it’s more probable than probable – it’s almost certain.
Now, here’s a question. What’s the opposite of likely? We can say NOT likely.

Yes. It’s not likely to stop until late tonight.

And we can also say unlikely.
So it’s unlikely that things will be back to normal any time soon.
Likely – unlikely – they’re opposites. Notice those sentences both started with it’s. It is. It’s is a sort of dummy subject here. And let’s look at the second one again. Sometimes likely is followed by a ‘that clause’ and ‘will’. So likely that, and ‘will’. Here’s another example.

It’s also likely that there will be power outages.

This isn’t the most common pattern. Likely and the infinitive verb is more common, but you’ll see both structures.
Great! So now you know the key patterns to use with likely. What do you think? Are you likely to use the word likely? Tell us something that’s likely to happen or likely not to happen in the comments.
And what about those marshmallows? Do you remember that experiment? Let’s find out what happens.

What’s going to happen if we cook this marshmallow in the microwave for sixty seconds?
I’ve no idea.
Well, let’s try.
OK.
Right, I’m going to put it on for sixty seconds. What do you think is likely to happen? Do you think it’s likely to melt and turn into liquid?
Maybe. Or is it likely to turn brown and burn?
Do you think it’s likely to explode like a bomb?
Oh my goodness. I hope not.
I’m just glad that the microwave hasn’t blown up. It still could. Ooo. It’s coming down.
One. Aha! It’s stopped.
OK, let’s open the door and see what it’s like. Oh wow! Well look at that. That is one big marshmallow! This was the size that it went in at. And this is the size now.
That’s huge.
I know. It’s amazing, isn’t it. I’m going to squish it. Oh Jay. You’re going to love this.
I love marshmallows.

OK, the last thing. Here’s one more expression with likely. What do you think it means?
If story is likely it should be probable and expected, so something that sounds true and you can believe it easily. But we always use this particular phrase ironically, so it means the opposite. Instead of a story you can believe, it means a story you can’t believe. Something that can’t be true. Let’s see it in action.

Jay, I don’t understand. There were lots of marshmallows in this bag. Where have they gone?
The dog ate them.
Really?
Yes. Carter ate them all.
A likely story.

What do you think? Should I believe Jay or not? And what will your friends think? Why not send them a link to this video so they can tell you and learn some English too. We’ll be back next Friday, so make sure you subscribe and click that notification bell so you don’t miss our future videos. Bye!
Click here to learn how to talk about possibilities with if and in case.
Click here to learn some more ways we talk about the future.

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