1

Liable is often loosely used in colloquial, nonstandard AE for likely: "My favorite horse is liable to win" -- but discriminating use generally applies liable only to what is undesirable: "An overheated radiator is liable to explode."

And so -- with this latter sense in mind -- can a phrase like "At this rate this horse is liable to win" mean pretty much the same as saying "At this rate this horse has a serious chance to win and I gotta say I don't like the idea"?

Analogously, can someone say "At this rate this horse is likely to lose the race" and mean by that: "At this rate this horse has a serious chance to lose the race and I gotta say I love the idea"?

2

Yes. I think you are right about 'liable' only being used for an undesirable outcome. That is unless you were using it ironically. The British are fond of irony.

If I said (about a debtor who was long overdue) 'they are threatening to pay at the end of the month', that would be an ironical use of 'threatening'. British people will often use words like 'threatening' and 'liable' in an ironic sense. 'I think he is liable to pass the exam, which means we could be going to a restaurant to celebrate'.

'Danger' is another. Someone who supports a football team, which has been regularly losing of late might say, 'I am going to the match on Saturday, but I don't think there is any danger of them winning'.

| improve this answer | |
  • How about if not in an ironic sense? Can you say "he's liable to win" and mean by that "he has a serious chance to win and I gotta say I don't like that" -- and, in the same pattern, say "he's likely to lose" with the meaning "he has a serious chance to lose and I gotta say I love that"? – Elian Mar 1 '14 at 14:06
  • Yes, in its straightforward form 'liable' implies the possibility of bad news. – WS2 Mar 1 '14 at 20:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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