Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What would be the difference between chance and opportunity?

share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

When someone gets a chance or an opportunity, as in

He got a chance to demonstrate his skills to the boss.

He got an opportunity to demonstrate his skills to the boss.

the words are essentially identical.

However, when someone takes a chance, that is very different from taking an opportunity. "Taking a chance" is doing something that has a significant risk of failure; you are betting on something that could very well go against you. "Taking an opportunity" is seizing a moment where you can do something to improve your standing in some way (get a raise, get introduced to a person you like, or even something as simple as resting up in preparation for an event later ("I took the opportunity to grab a short nap", for example.)

In other scenarios, "Chance" will tend to refer to a neutral event has some uncertainty attached to it ("there's a chance of rain later today") whereas "Opportunity" will still tend to refer to the possibility of doing something that benefits you. (I don't think you'll ever hear "There's an opportunity of rain later today.")

share|improve this answer

The difference between chance and opportunity is risk. That is, an opportunity is positive, even when used in the negative. It's a gift, or a goal earned, generally with positive consequences.

"I gave him the opportunity to make an ass of himself.", is just as correct as "I gave him the opportunity to earn that raise he wanted.", but in the first case the benefit is to the speaker, not the victim.

Chance, on the other hand, implies loss if you fail to grasp success in the endeavor.

"I took a chance on love.", risks a broken heart. Games of chance risk financial loss. It also, in my opinion, implies a lack of planned progress. You make opportunities. You get chances.

share|improve this answer
    
It's a great answer. –  Joe Blow Jul 4 '11 at 11:54

These are two words which can occasionally be used more or less interchangeably, but often cannot. Picture a Venn diagram.

There are a great deal of differences; since you haven't asked for any specific ones, I'll just give you a couple of my favorites.

Blackjack is described as a "game of chance." I've not heard it described as a "game of opportunity."

However, if you were looking at the want ads, you might find an "opportunity" to work as a blackjack dealer. You'd want to show up to the interview looking and feeling your best as you meet your potential new employer. In this economy, you wouldn't leave such things to chance.

share|improve this answer

Opportune has a very nice etymology:

opportune
c.1400, from L. opportunus "favorable," from the phrase ob portum veniens "coming toward a port," in reference to the wind, from ob "to, toward" + portus "harbor."

This gives opportunity the sense of "fitness, suitableness, favorable time," - in reference to the wind that is suitable to take the ship into a harbor.

On the other hand,

chance
c.1300, "something that takes place," from O.Fr. cheance "accident, chance, fortune, luck, situation, the falling of dice" (12c., Mod.Fr. chance), from V.L. cadentia "that which falls out," from neut. pl. of L. cadens, prp. of cadere "to fall" (see case (1)). The word's notions of "opportunity" and "randomness" are equally old in English. The verb meaning "to risk" is from 1859. Related: Chanced; chancing.

has etymology that is not so specific (however what is relevant is the note that the notion of "opportunity" is old).

Chance is definitively much wider term that can be:

  • an unpredictable event or accidental happening
  • risk or gamble
  • the happening of events without apparent cause, or the apparent absence of cause or design; fortuity; luck
  • a ticket in a lottery or raffle
  • an advantageous or opportune time or occasion; opportunity

Thus, for every opportunity can be said that it is a chance, but not everything that chance can refer to can be called an opportunity.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.