un·​like·​ly | \ˌən-ˈlī-klē \

Definition of unlikely 

1 : not likely : improbable an unlikely outcome

2 : likely to fail : unpromising

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Synonyms & Antonyms for unlikely


doubtful, dubious, far-fetched, flimsy, improbable, questionable, unapt


likely, probable

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Examples of unlikely in a Sentence

He was an unlikely candidate for the position. A big city seems like an unlikely place to find wildlife. I received support from an unlikely ally.
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Recent Examples on the Web

But a Globe review of internal documents, past cost-control efforts, and the composition of Troop F suggests that hitting the high end of that projection is unlikely, if not impossible. Matt Rocheleau, BostonGlobe.com, "Baker’s plan to cut State Police OT spending faces major hurdles," 11 July 2018 Sales of high-end imports such as Tesla’s are unlikely to be hit severely by the price increase, according to analysts, since buyers of luxury cars tend not to be price-conscious. Trefor Moss, WSJ, "Tesla Buyers in China Are Early Casualties in Trade Wrestle," 9 July 2018 Beryl, at present, is unlikely at present to be a major concern for Caribbean island residents. Chris Morris, Fortune, "Beryl Is 2018's First Hurricane —and Chris Could Be Brewing Off the East Coast," 6 July 2018 That’s unlikely to fly, and in any case, the round of 16 provides a lot of fun. Martin Rogers, USA TODAY, "How to stop World Cup teams from trying to lose in the group stage," 29 June 2018 Twenty-six of the people who have been charged are Russians and are unlikely to ever face a U.S. trial, according to the Post. Jewel Wicker, Teen Vogue, "12 Russians Are Charged With Conspiring to Hack the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election," 13 July 2018 The death Tuesday of a La Crosse County resident from Rocky Mountain spotted fever was not just unlikely, but unheard of — at least in Wisconsin. Anna Groves, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Don't panic over first Rocky Mountain spotted fever death in Wisconsin, but be careful," 12 July 2018 The New York Times, which first reported on the new demands, reported that Giuliani has acknowledged that Mueller is unlikely to agree to them, and also left open the possibility that Trump may still agree to be interviewed. John Roberts, Fox News, "Trump's legal team demands 'factual basis' for Mueller probe before agreeing to interview," 7 July 2018 As Tuesday’s game kicked off, one of England, Colombia, Sweden, Russia or Croatia was guaranteed to be an extremely unlikely participant in the World Cup final. Brian Straus, SI.com, "England's Belief Manifests Itself in Elusive Penalty Triumph, World Cup Progression," 3 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unlikely.' 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 unlikely

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for unlikely

Last Updated

11 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for unlikely

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

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More Definitions for unlikely



English Language Learners Definition of unlikely

: not likely

: not seeming to be right or suited for a purpose


un·​like·​ly | \ən-ˈlī-klē \
unlikelier; unlikeliest

Kids Definition of unlikely

1 : not likely an unlikely story

2 : not promising This is an unlikely place for fishing.

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More from Merriam-Webster on unlikely

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for unlikely

Spanish Central: Translation of unlikely

Nglish: Translation of unlikely for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of unlikely for Arabic Speakers

Comments on unlikely

What made you want to look up unlikely? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


by force of circumstances

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