A probability is a numerical measure of the likelihood of a statement. It can be difficult to assign probabilities to statements. For example, it may be difficult to assign your probability of a nuclear war in the next hundred years. But we use words, such as unlikely, occasionally, even-chance, and rarely, to indicate the chances that a particular event will occur.

We would like to assign numbers (called probabilities) to these words. Before we try to do this, we'll rank different words from least likely to most likely. An unlikely word is a word such as never which indicates a small chance of happening. A likely word is a word such as probable which indicates a large chance of happening.
  1. For each pair of words below, circle the word that you believe indicates a greater chance of happening.

    It may be helpful to use these words in a particular context. For example, if you like sports, you might use the sentence "BGSU ______ will defeat Miami in hockey," where the probability phrase goes in the blank. To answer the first question below, ask yourself: Which statement indicates a greater likelihood of happening -- "BGSU sometimes will defeat Miami in hockey" or "BGSU often will defeat Miami in hockey"? If you think the word often means a larger likelihood, you circle the word often below.

  2. Now make a list of the eight words sometimes, often, always, very-frequent, seldom, even-chance, unlikely, possible , where the most likely word is on top and the least likely word is at the bottom.

  3. Now assign numbers to the eight words -- put these numbers to the right of the words. The numbers you assign should be consistent with the ordering of the words you made in part 2.

Page Author: Jim Albert (© 1996)
Last Modified: November 24, 1996