We Need a Good Word for “Moderately Unlikely”

Here’s some genuinely useful information: what people think you’re saying when you tell them how likely something is. Here’s the approximate ranking:

  • 90% — Almost certainly, highly likely
  • 80% — Very good chance
  • 70% — Probably, probable, likely, we believe
  • 60% — Better than even
  • 50% — About even
  • 40% — ??
  • 30% — ??
  • 25% — Probably not, we doubt
  • 20% — Unlikely, improbable, little chance
  • 10% — Chances are slight
  • 0% — Highly unlikely, almost no chance

There are no real surprises here except for one: apparently we don’t have a common word to express moderate doubt. The entire space between 25 percent and 50 percent is empty. Why do you suppose that is?1

1The most obvious answer is that the researchers just didn’t happen to include the right phrases in their study, but that’s boring. I would like to see some more creative suggestions.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.