What is the English word that best captures "what if" situation? Something along the lines of "What if something goes wrong". It is close to being pessimistic. But pessimistic is too negative.

I am basically looking for a word that captures "what-if situations" rather than the expression "what if" itself. "Worst-case" is not a choice for me.

  • 1
    Scenarios? Possibilities? Hypotheses? Imaginings? Thought experiments? Considerations? Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 5:08
  • 1
    Is it important that the word you seek has a negative connotation, although less negative than "worst-case" or "pessimistic"? Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 10:28
  • @MattЭллен yes negative connotation
    – sashank
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 13:31
  • What about "risk management"? Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 22:03
  • “In most cases a contingency plan is associated with risk management in a project, in the case a risk occurs these actions have to be taken to control/mitigate the risk. / A fall back plan is an alternative in case a certain approach fails.” — ProjectManagement.com Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 6:57

5 Answers 5


The most obvious word that comes to mind is "hypotheticals". It does not refer to exclusively positive or negative scenarios, but to any imagined, "what if" scenarios.

From Wikipedia:

Hypotheticals are situations, statements or questions about something imaginary rather than something real. Hypotheticals deal with the concept of "what if?"'. Grammatically, the term is a noun formed from an adjective, and the word is pluralized because it refers to the members of a class of hypothetical things.

  • thank you but i believe , its not so commonly used word, so my readers may not easily read my mind if i use this word
    – sashank
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 13:33
  • 1
    @sashank I believe the term would be pretty widely understood in most contexts, and among most audiences. However, you can use "hypothetical situation" or "hypothetical scenario" if you want to keep it simple. Also, I think almost everybody would understand you if you simply use "'what if' scenario".
    – p.s.w.g
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:02

Possibilities. What-if scenarios are the possibilities.

  • 1
    This is more of a "comment" than an answer. Comments can include opinions and additional information, such as this. Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 7:38

"Contingency preparations" is what I would use.

  • 1
    Hi, Megan, welcome to EL&U! I like your suggestion for this situation. You could strengthen your answer and get more up-votes if you add an explanation of why this answer fits the OP's question, possibly including a definition cited from a dictionary. Although, with older questions, your answer might not get much attention in any case. You can see more about writing good answers (and questions) in the Help Center. Check it out, and see if any of our newer questions look interesting. Good luck--I look forward to seeing more contributions from you!
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 13:51
  • I second @1006a's suggestions. It would be a really good answer if you fleshed it out and provided more context and references. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 19:32

To be honest, I think scenario is going to be your best word.

It's very flexible for the context you suggest.

  • Best-case scenario
  • Worst-case scenario
  • If Hitler had won the war, the scenario...
  • In what scenario could you see that happen?

It lends itself perfectly to "what if" situations.





  • Good options. Don't know why someone down-voted.
    – xr280xr
    Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 22:11

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