Language tip of the week: possibilityPosted by Liz Potter on May 10, 2012
In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. These tips are based on areas of English (e.g. spelling, grammar, collocation, synonyms, etc) which learners often find difficult. This week’s language tip is about the patterns that follow the noun possibility.
The noun possibility is never followed by an infinitive. Use the pattern the/a possibility of doing something:
✗ New technology offers
the possibility to putvery large dictionaries onto a single compact disc.
✓ New technology offers the possibility of putting very large dictionaries onto a single compact disc.
✗ With more flexible working hours, staff now have
the possibility to buildtheir own working conditions.
✓ With more flexible working hours, staff now have the possibility of building their own working conditions.
You can also use possibility in the following patterns:
▪ possibility of something
▪ possibility that
The possibility of a move to the coast was considered.
There is a real possibility that the government could be defeated.
Could you explore how possibility compares to other nouns ending in -lity, like capability?
good suggestion Martin, thanks; I’ll make it the topic of a future language tip.
Thanks! As a journalism school student, I always enjoy reading these tips.
The categorical statement “The noun possibility is never followed by an infinitive” is not correct. One does say correctly: ‘There is one more possibility to consider in the case under review, if only because the sense of ‘possibility’ in that sentence i-another option or instance- is different from the one in ‘The technology offers the possibility of putting a large dictionary on a CD’ -makes it possible to put more content on the CD-.
You can also say “The CD provides more possibilities for adding explanatory features for more words”.
You need to be more discriminating when providing a rule,
Can you expand your comparison between the construction pattern of ‘possibility’ and other words ending in -lity to include words such as the following in order to indicate whether they take an infinitive or the gerund and whether there is rule:
chance of or to; likelihood of or to, intention of or to; He gave the signal to attack. He interpreted it as a signal of surrender.
Richard: Thank you for your comments and suggestions. These Language Tips are based on common errors made by students and intended to give guidance on avoiding them, and as such are rather broad brush. You’re correct both in saying that the ‘rule’ is too categorical – one of the first lessons you learn as a corpus lexicographer is ‘never say never’ – and that a to-infinitive is possible after a different sense of the noun (your plural example about CDs also relates to a different sense from the one in the examples). I’ll be returning to noun patterns in a future post, and will endeavour to give a more nuanced account.
Isn’t there any definite role for such specifications?