Apt, liable, or likely – Grammarist

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Apt, liable, and likely are words that are used with infinitives that are somewhat interchangeable, though they do have subtle differences in meaning and are often confused; they are considered confusables. Confusables is a catch-all term for words that are often misused or confused; there are many confusing words in the English language that may be easily confused for each other in spoken English and written English. Two words or more than two words, even if they are common words, may be confused because they are similar in spelling, similar in pronunciation, or similar in meaning. These commonly confused words may be pronounced the same way or pronounced differently or may be spelled the same way or spelled differently, or may have different meanings or have almost different meanings; they may be homophones, homonyms, heteronyms, homographs, words that have a similar spelling, or words that have a similar meaning. Sometimes, confusables are word constructions that are not proper English words. Confusables often confound native speakers of English, and they may be difficult for ESL students and those learning English to understand. Confusables are misspelled, misused words that have a different meaning from one another and may be nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, or any other part of speech. Spelling rules in English are not dependable; there are many exceptions. Often, the best procedure to learn new words and commonly misused words and commonly confused words in English is to make word lists of English words for the learner to study to understand the difference in spelling and meaning. To learn new words in the English language, one must not only study a spelling words list, one must know the meaning of words in one’s vocabulary word list. It is also helpful to memorize how to correctly pronounce words and to know the etymology of new words or where they are derived from. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake in English vocabulary, so do not rely on spell check but instead, learn to spell and learn the definitions of words. Even a participant in a spelling bee like the National Spelling Bee will ask for an example of a confusable in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. Confusables are often used in wordplay like puns. We will examine the different meanings of the confusables apt, liable, and likely, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

Apt means that one has a tendency toward something; if one is said to be apt to panic, it means that the person has a tendency toward panicking and might panic in this instance. If one is apt to do something, the person has demonstrated in the past that he has a tendency toward that behavior. The word apt is derived from the Latin word, aptus, which means suited or appropriate.

Liable means that there is a possibility of something and is used when that possibility will have a negative effect on the subject. For instance, a person may be said to be liable to fall off a bicycle; this means the person has a good chance of falling off his bicycle. The word liable is derived from the Latin word, ligare, which means to bind.

Likely expresses a probability of something. For example, a person may be said to be likely to succeed. In this case, the person shows all the attributes and track record of a person who is going to succeed, and the speaker expects him to succeed. The word likely is derived from the Old English word, geliclic, which means appearing to be true.


It not only gives them a favorable impression of the town, but as all know, where the tourists stop for the night he is very apt to leave some money for the supplies he needs. (Fulton Sun)

Describing the library as “unrivalled in its holdings of northern British literary treasures”, the society has written to all northern MPs and elected mayors warning that the Sotheby’s auctions will see “trophy items” acquired “at prices beyond the reach of British museums and libraries”, with many liable to “disappear into the bank vaults of international private investors”. (The Guardian)

OPEC+ is likely to stick to the existing pact of gradually easing oil supply curbs at a meeting on Tuesday, OPEC sources said, as producers balance expectations of a recovery in demand against a possible increase in Iranian supply. (Reuters)

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