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.

Search by related themes

Want to learn more about a theme discussed on this page? Click on a link below to see all the pages on the Language Portal of Canada that relate to the theme you selected. The search results will be displayed in Language Navigator.

Date modified: