Describing likelihood

The last group of meanings we will look at that can be created with adverbs is likelihood.

We can use adverbs to fine-tune how likely we think an action or event is.

What's going on in this snippet?

For a reason that I could never properly understand, Captain Hardcastle had it in for me from my very first day at St Peterโ€™s. Perhaps it was because he taught Latin and I was no good at it. Perhaps it was because already, at the age of nine, I was very nearly as tall as he was. Or even more likely, it was because I took an instant dislike to his giant orange moustache and he often caught me staring at it with what was probably a little sneer under the nose.


In this snippet, Roald Dahl is giving a list of reasons why his teacher Captain Hardcastle didn't like him, but not all of those reasons are equally likely.

  • First, Dahl lists two reasons that were possible but not all that likely:
    • that it was because Dahl was bad at Latin, or
    • that he was almost as tall as Captain Hardcastle.
  • Then he gives the reason he thinks is more likely:
    • that Captain Hardcastle noticed Dahl sneering at his moustache.

Why not just give the most likely reason to start with?

Probably for dramatic effect: the first two reasons are reasonable but mundane; the third reason is more fanciful and funny. Dahl builds up to his punchline.

Let's try using this pattern for ourselves. We'll need to come up with a situation, and then give three explanations for it—two that are not so likely, followed by one that is much more likely.

It wasn't clear why the only breakfast option the Molecular Gastronomic Reconstructor could make was spinach omelette. Perhaps it was because spinach and egg were structurally simple, and the machine needed time to warm up in the mornings. Perhaps it was because mission control wanted to make sure we started the day with a good source of iron and protein. Or, even more likely, it was because my friend, Jamie, who installed it, wanted me to curse their name every morning I got up on my way to Mars.

There could be heaps of reasons why my photos of Nessie always came out blurry. Maybe my lens cleaner was grubby. Maybe she just moved too fast. But surely it was because the magical aura surrounding the loch messed with my camera.

Now it's your turn. Give two possible explanations for an event, followed by one that is much more likely. Bonus points if your more likely explanation is a little bit fanciful.