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“Definitely Possible”: a Contradiction in Terms

A colleague rather innocently typed off that a scenario was “definitely possible.” She had the best of intentions; and in fact, she was expressing something rather nice. Nonetheless, something cannot be “definitely possible.” Either it’s definite or it’s possible. Choose one.

Merriam Webster Definition

The sad thing is that I know what she meant. But she could have just as easily said “It’s possible,” instead of the contradictory, “It’s definitely possible.” The former not only has the advantage of being grammatically correct; it is also more parsimonious than the latter. Being concise and grammatical correct are conjoined here. Admittedly, though, it leaves one yearning for other options.

Indeed, there is one other option for expressing this sentiment.

One could say “There’s a distinct possibility.” That is an elegant phrase to indicate that an eventuality may be realized with a chance that is perhaps greater than people are aware of.

If an eventuality is definite, by definition it is more than merely possible. And if an eventuality is possible, by definition it is not definite, when after all it might not happen. In other words, the phrase is an oxymoron.

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