adjective, un·like·li·er, un·like·li·est.

not likely to be or occur; improbable; marked by doubt.
holding little prospect of success; unpromising; likely to fail: He is an unlikely candidate for reelection.
not ingratiating; objectionable.


in an unlikely way.

Origin of unlikely

First recorded in 1325–75, unlikely is from the Middle English word unlikli. See un-1, likely
Related formsun·like·li·ness, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for unlikely

Contemporary Examples of unlikely

Historical Examples of unlikely

  • The arrangements your father has made is one of provision against the unlikely.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • Such a proceeding was not unlikely; it was not, however, the one she adopted.

  • Diligent enquiry there, in likely and unlikely places, proved fruitless.

  • At this time he is not unlikely to eat our sprouting lettuce and peas.

    The Meaning of Evolution

    Samuel Christian Schmucker

  • Of course there was a chance that he might encounter the latter, but he thought it unlikely.

    Fair Harbor

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

British Dictionary definitions for unlikely



not likely; improbable
Derived Formsunlikeliness or unlikelihood, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for unlikely

late 14c., "not likely to occur," from un- (1) + likely. Cf. Old Norse ulikligr, Middle Danish uligelig. Meaning "not likely to be true" is recorded from 1590s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with unlikely


see in the unlikely event.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.