Is there a modal to express a probability that is higher than that associated with "may", without the definiteness "must" evokes?

Example (as I understand the expressions to be intended):

"This might happen" -> There is the possibility of it happening, but it probably won't.

"This may happen" -> 50/50 Chance of it happening.

"This must happen" -> There is a small possibility of it not happening, but in most cases it will.

Is there anything to express a high probability of something happening while not being as definitive as "must"? Basically I'm looking for a modal expression stronger than may and weaker than must.

I have considered "could" and "should" - But to me "could" sounds like it would range itself between "might" and "may", whereas "should" may not even be that far off the word I'm searching, but I simply can't use it the sentence I am trying to write.

Although this {modal expression} be because only few decide to stay in the country itself, whereas most continue to venture further into Europe

  • probably will is between may and must.
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 20, 2016 at 19:52
  • @Silenus The use of "will" indicates an event that has not happened yet, though. Whereas I'd like to talk about the present. My examples were badly chosen, sorry for that. As of now, my sentence uses "very probably is"/"probably is", but it just sounds ugly. Aug 20, 2016 at 19:58
  • 2
    Is very likely to be
    – V.V.
    Aug 20, 2016 at 20:06
  • You could use 'may well'. Aug 20, 2016 at 20:11
  • 1
    There's also "is likely" which can be modifed to "is very likely" or "is most likely".
    – Hellion
    Aug 20, 2016 at 20:34

2 Answers 2


Going with the "modal expression" edit and using the sentence "That [modal expression] work" as a test case, I see it as follows:

  • That might work -- relatively low probability, much less than 50%; involves an element of dubiousness

  • That may work -- a little more likely than might, but not that different; maybe a little more hopeful than might

  • That could work -- a little more likely than may, but not that different; maybe a little more hopeful than may

  • That may well work -- more positive than might, may, or could; in the neighborhood of 50%

  • That should, ought to work -- more positive than may well -- somewhat higher than 50%

  • That is likely to, probably will work-- more positive than should

  • That will work -- more positive than is likely to, probably will -- approaching 100%

  • That must work -- more positive than will, but not that different -- one doesn't know for sure until one tries

Personally, I see little to distinguish might, may, and could. Ditto re will and must. In any event, modal expressions that clearly fall between may and must include the following:

  • may well -- in the neighborhood of 50%

  • should, ought to -- more positive than may well -- somewhat higher than 50%

  • is likely to, probably will -- more positive than should, ought to but less positive than will, must

You could choose the one of these that best fits your context. Note that other respondents have already identified these expressions in their answers and comments.

My "analysis" is obviously highly subjective and may depend on the test case chosen, so there's no money back guarantee.

  • That seems likely. I think that works.
    – The Nate
    Sep 1, 2016 at 7:34

The idea that “may” and “might” express different degrees of uncertainty is as interesting as that they are interchangeable. While by definition none of us can cite negative examples of why neither is in fact so, I suggest it will be almost equally difficult to cite a convincing example showing that either is. Though most speakers ignore the fact, “might” is purely an expression of possibility while “may” is always opposed to “can”. “May” might thus imply a need for permission. In my view past, present and future only make that harder to see, not to follow. Either way, “must” does not imply that there is a small possibility of something not happening… “Must” clearly defines the event as inevitable, with no possibility of it not happening.

If there was an official list, I think it would look more like:

•   That might work -- uncertain probability; uncertainly unquantifiable per se.

•   That may work -- exactly the same probability as “might” but necessarily implying dependance if not specifically on permission, on specified other factors, eg: "That may work if you push hard enough."

•   That could work -- almost exactly the same as “might” but depending purely on the speaker, possibly implying less certainty.

•   That may well work -- significantly more positive than may; almost by definition significantly more than 50%

•   That should, ought to work -- very much more positive than may or may well; almost certain to work, barring unforeseen circumstances.

•   That is likely to, probably will work-- probably more than 50% likely

•   That will work -- completely positive; 100% certain; no possibility of failure

•   That must work -- depending on tone, either completely positive or as much reliant on luck as judgement.

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