im·​pos·​si·​bil·​i·​ty | \ (ˌ)im-ˌpä-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē How to pronounce impossibility (audio) \

Definition of impossibility

1 : the quality or state of being impossible
2 : something impossible

Examples of impossibility in a Sentence

The blizzard made travel an impossibility. the impossibility of knowing what the future will bring
Recent Examples on the Web The article begins, Yale will stop teaching a storied introductory survey course in art history, citing the impossibility of adequately covering the entire field — and its varied cultural backgrounds — in one course. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, "Sweet freedom of conscience, &c.," 27 Jan. 2020 The impossibility of his task — trying to beat the big dog of Texas GOP politics and become the first Lone Star Democrat to win a statewide election in 24 years — only made his effort more endearing to his fellow Democrats. Gilbert Garcia,, "O’Rourke’s assets became liabilities in presidential race," 6 Nov. 2019 The impossibility of an exercise like this is only a reminder of just how very alive cinema is. Jake Coyle And Lindsey Bahr, Houston Chronicle, "‘Tree of Life’ tops list of 10 best films of the decade," 26 Dec. 2019 But access has become so difficult to attain that wandering around the farm looking for sign is an impossibility for many of today’s hunters. Will Brantley, Field & Stream, "Do Bait Bans Really Help in the Fight Against CWD?," 22 Nov. 2019 Coach Anthony Lynn said Ingram has been lobbying to play Sunday, but that seems like an impossibility. Jeff Miller, Los Angeles Times, "Chargers stats might look impressive, but all that counts is their 2-2 record," 3 Oct. 2019 Democrats say climate change is an emergency, and a referral to the ballot would effectively suspend the program until November 2020, making implementation in 2021 an impossibility., "Senate Republican walkout: What do they want?," 21 June 2019 This report, and the UN’s begrudging acknowledgment of the near impossibility of that goal, marks a dramatic turning point. Zoë Schlanger, Quartz, "The UN all but admits we will probably pass the 1.5°C point of no return," 26 Nov. 2019 That this 110-year-old complaint seems to speak to our own times is a testament both to the longevity of liberalism and to the difficulty—perhaps impossibility—of resolving its tensions. Patrick Iber, The New Republic, "The World The Economist Made," 17 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'impossibility.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of impossibility

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of impossibility was in the 14th century

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Statistics for impossibility

Last Updated

17 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Impossibility.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for impossibility


How to pronounce impossibility (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of impossibility

: something that is impossible : something that cannot be done or that cannot happen
: the quality or state of being impossible


im·​pos·​si·​bil·​i·​ty | \ im-ˌpä-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē How to pronounce impossibility (audio) \
plural impossibilities

Kids Definition of impossibility

1 : something that cannot be done or occur Time travel is an impossibility.
2 : the quality or state of being impossible


plural impossibilities

Legal Definition of impossibility

1 : the quality or state of being impossible also : the affirmative defense that something (as performance) is impossible
2 : something impossible
3 : impossibility of performance in this entry
factual impossibility
: impossibility based on factual circumstances specifically : a partial defense to criminal liability based on the incompletion of an intended criminal act

Note: Factual impossibility is not a complete defense and does allow prosecution for attempt or for another inchoate offense. For example, if the defendant constructed a bomb that failed to explode, factual impossibility would be a defense against murder charges, but not attempted murder.

impossibility of performance
1 : a doctrine in contract law that a party may be released from liability for breach of contract for failing to perform an obligation that is rendered impossible by uncontrollable circumstances (as death or failure of the means of delivery)
2 : a defense to breach of contract or a basis for release from contractual obligations because of impossibility of performance — compare frustration, impracticability
legal impossibility
: impossibility based on or with reference to a law specifically : a complete defense to criminal liability based on the commitment of acts that are not criminal or illegal

Note: Legal impossibility is founded on the principle that an act is not a crime unless there is a law prohibiting it.

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More from Merriam-Webster on impossibility

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with impossibility

Spanish Central: Translation of impossibility

Nglish: Translation of impossibility for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of impossibility for Arabic Speakers

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