Likeliness is already uncertain, so saying that an even is likely, is surely the same as saying it appears the event will occur, right? Wouldn't this mean that "X appears likely" is the same as saying "It appears that it appears that X will occur"?

Is that right? If so, does it mean that "appears likely" is redundant?

Btw, I am aware that "appears likely" is commonly used, I'm not interested in whether it is correct by common usage; only whether it is, in a technical sense, redundant.

  • That is not redundant. Try "It appears apparent" if your tastes run to real redundancy. – Robusto Nov 16 '12 at 19:59
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    Doesn't this depend on whether you're a frequentist or a Bayesian? – Peter Shor Nov 16 '12 at 20:27
  • It's not redundant because "it appears likely that X" is perfectly consistent with "X is actually unlikely". We can argue that things are different than they appear, but it is incoherent to argue that they are different than they are. – David Schwartz Nov 17 '12 at 15:29

No, under no circumstance is the word "appears" redundant, as it cannot be removed without altering the meaning of the phrase.

At the very least, as Jay noted, "it appears likely" shows much less conviction than "it is likely", and conveys a lower expectation that the following statement will be proven true.

As Will Hunting notes, it's often used to imply that the speaker considers something likely, based on the information they have, but also thinks that their information is incomplete, so it might be wise to seek more information before acting based on the apparent probability.

The phrase has other potential meanings, as well: one might say "It appears likely that X is true, but...", indicating that the speaker does not believe X is true (or may even know X to be false), but does think that a casual observer without his/her special knowledge would consider X to likely be true.

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    Very good point in your last paragraph. – Marthaª Nov 17 '12 at 4:58

I don't think it's redundant.

If you say, e.g., "It is likely that Sally Jones will win the contest", you are saying that you are not certain that she will win, but you think that the probability that she will win is high. But if you say, "It appears likely that Sally Jones will win the contest", now you are saying something more like, Based on the information available at present, the probability that she will win is high, but we are not certain of that information. Or perhaps you want to allow for the possibility that between now and when the contest is actually decided, circumstances may change. Or you simply want to hedge on your estimate of the probability.

It is true that any statement of probability -- "it is likely", "it could happen that", " maybe", etc -- implies that the event is not a certainly. That is, if you say it might happen, the fact that you are not being definitive means that you are also acknowledging that it might not happen. In that sense, adding additional qualifiers could be said to be redundant. Like, how is "it is possible that" different from "it might be possible that"? Etc.

But different wordings imply different probabilities. Of course there is no exact formula: we do not say that "it is likely to happen" means a probability of 80%, "it may happen" means 40%, "it might happen" means 34.7%, etc. But "likely" implies a fairly high probability, while "appears likely" would mean something less. "It might happen" is (probably) more likly than "It might possibly happen", which is more likely still than "it is barely possible that". And so on. We combine various words to shade our estimate of the probability.

I am reminded of the time that in a conversation someone made a suggestion, and I said, "That may be an idea". Someone else laughed and noted that I wasn't even willing to say that is was an idea, I would only concede that it "may be" an idea.


Likely refers to the probability of something happening being high, while appear refers to giving the impression of something. The two words can be seen to refer to different aspects of the matter, so there is no redundancy.

  • It appears likely to some people that Man U will win the Premiership this year. It does not appear likely to me. Probabilities not based on equally-likely outcomes cannot be stated with precision, and in the way the term is used by laymen, 'probabilities' are usually affected by subjective factors. A hedge (here, a pragmatic marking showing modality) ('seems / appears likely / probable') is then warranted. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 16 '12 at 18:23
  • @EdwinAshworth Interesting point. "Appears" here can mean two different things: If you say, "It appears that x will happen" you may be using "appears" to mean that it is a probability rather than a certainty. But "It appears to me that x will happen" changes it from a discussion of probabilities to a discussion of point of view. Thus going back to "It appears that ...", depending on context this may mean a probability or it may mean a viewpoint. – Jay Nov 19 '12 at 16:34

It is not redundant. Consider that you can say "It appears unlikely that...." without causing a contradiction.

  • I agree with your conclusion, but I think your reasoning is faulty: appears is sometimes used in connection with probability, as are the words "likely" and "unlikely". Just because it can be used with two different words that imply probability does not mean it's necessarily not redundant. Consider the phrases "it's probably likely" and "it's probably unlikely", where "probably" is redundant, because "likely" and "unlikely" already convey that probability is involved, and "probably" doesn't really alter our expectation of the degree of likelihood, or imply incomplete information. – Theodore Murdock Nov 17 '12 at 4:34
  • @TheodoreMurdock, actually, in a statement like "it's probably likely", "probably" functions just like "appears" would: it decreases the certainty of "likely". – Marthaª Nov 17 '12 at 4:56
  • @Marthaª I agree it could do that, but I think it's at least much closer to redundancy...and I think it helps illustrate that the logic behind this answer is not strictly valid. – Theodore Murdock Nov 17 '12 at 5:22

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