liable, likely, apt

Although these words are largely interchangeable when used to express probability, each of them has a specific primary meaning.

Apt means “naturally inclined” or “suitable.”

  • Ginger, the cat, is apt (inclined) to run away if the door is left open.
  • For a freelance editor, a thesaurus is an apt (suitable) gift.

Liable means “answerable” or “likely” (especially with some risk of an unpleasant outcome). It should not be used in a positive context.

  • Criminals are liable for their actions.
  • People who drink and drive are liable to cause an accident.

Likely means “expected” or “probable.” For most situations, likely is the best choice.

  • We are likely (or liable) to be late for the concert if this heavy rain continues.
  • Shanta is likely (not liable) to get the highest marks in her class again this year.

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