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Is there a verb meaning "to make likely or probable" or "to make unlikely or improbable"?

I'm more in need of the latter, but I assume that if the former exists, the latter might too.

Edit: I'm looking for something that is a less-absolute form of prevent. Example:

The old jacket at least prevented me from catching a cold.

is too absolute. So, instead I'm trying to use a word meaning "to make unlikely or improbable".

The old jacket at least [———]ed me from catching a cold.

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Are you thinking along the lines of "encourage" or "hasten" or "promote"? – user15816 Dec 8 '11 at 22:05
Not quite. Check the edit? :) – Patrick Perini Dec 8 '11 at 22:09
That example usage raises as many problems as it answers! It's in the past tense, so presumably the information as to whether OP did in fact catch cold or not is available at the later time of writing. If he didn't, "prevented" is the word to use. If he did, it's hardly worth mentioning the failure to foo the cold. – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '11 at 22:45
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Near-synonyms of preclude, "remove the possibility of; rule out; prevent or exclude; to make impossible" include forestall, hinder, obviate. Hinder, "to make difficult to accomplish; to frustrate, act as obstacle ... to keep back; to delay or impede" in particular might serve your purpose, as might some of its synonyms, "delay, frustrate, hamper, impede, obstruct, prevent, thwart", except that tone of "The old jacket hindered me from catching a cold" is rather odd, as if you wanted to catch a cold. But "The old jacket at least forestalled my catching a cold" may be ok. Incidentally, catching a cold has nothing to do with thermal effects, and is entirely due to exposure to people with colds.

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Hindering! I love it! Thanks! – Patrick Perini Dec 8 '11 at 22:17
Apparently, the reason we catch more colds when it's, well, cold, is that the virus survives longer on cold surfaces than on warm surfaces. – Marthaª Dec 8 '11 at 23:00
@PatrickPerini: Have you tried substituting preclude / hinder in the OP sentences? You needed a kind of converse of these words, actually. – Kris Dec 9 '11 at 6:18

I think we'd really need more context to find the particular word that would suit OP's needs. There are lots of words that mean make [something] completely impossible, but mostly they focus on bringing irresistable pressure to bear on whatever agents might have otherwise caused [something] to happen - eg, proscribe, rule out, interdict, veto, preclude, prevent, prohibit, forbid, disallow.

@Alan's encourage has the advantage that the opposite ("make less likely") is available through discourage. The downside is not everyone would like those words where there's no conscious entity being encouraged or discouraged from causing [something] to happen.

In some circumstances I think the best words for make more/less likely are promote / inhibit.

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Grammar apart, if you'd like to be understood right, save sounds better here.

The old jacket at least saved me from catching a cold.

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Just a note on remarks above: some researchers feel that, overall, the immune system works more effectively at higher temperatures (to a point) and is suppressed at cooler temperatures.

And as luck would have it, cooler temperatures and persons shedding the common cold virus frequently may be encountered together.

Wearing the old jacket deterred a common cold.

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