improve your English Learn English

Language tip of the week: possibility

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 put very 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 build their 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.

More language tips

Browse the list under the ‘language tips‘ tag here on the blog for more useful language tips.

Would you like to improve your vocabulary? Follow our daily tweets @MacLearnEnglish or visit our Learn English Facebook Page.

Email this Post Email this Post

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • Could you explore how possibility compares to other nouns ending in -lity, like capability?

  • 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.

Leave a Comment