In this post I’d like to discuss a few ways to express probability and possibility in Japanese.
I think most of you already know about some of the more basic ways to express uncertainty in Japanese, for example:
- かもしれない (sometimes abbreviated as かも）
- (じゃない) かな
- でしょう (discussed here)
These all can be used to convey various degrees of uncertainty (‘maybe’, ‘probably’, etc.) depending on context and tone of voice.
Let’s look at a few more advanced ways to express possibility. The word “possibility” can be translated as 可能性 (かのうせい), which is derived from 可能（かのう), which roughly means “possible”. The antonym of 可能 is 不可能 (ふかのう), or “impossible”.
Here are few example sentences illustrating the use of 可能性.
- This (computer) notebook is new (= just bought) so there is no possibility of it breaking.
- No, even new products have that possibility.
- Even saying that, I think the possibility of it breaking is very low.
- I’m not saying that the possibility of it breaking is high.
From these sentences you can see that ある／ない is used to express the existence of a possibility, and 低い／高い are used to express a low or high chance of something occurring.
Another word with similar meaning and usage is 確率（かくりつ), which is closer to English “probability” and to me has a more mathematical/technical feel to it.
- The probability of being able to live on Mars is extremely low.
You can use the following words to express a specific number.
- パーセント(or %) = percent
- 割（わり）= 10 percent (discussed here)
- ゼロ = zero (0 percent)
Here is an example sentence using the first two of these.
- Saying “The probability is 20%” means that there is a 20% possibility of occurring.
Another way to say “possible” in Japanese is あり得る. It’s antonym is あり得ない, and this word is commonly used together with the word なんて (after either a verb or noun) to express something is not possible, either literally or metaphorically.
- There is no way that there isn’t a single thing you want to do.
- It’s impossible that a bank would go out of business.
A final expression that can be used to express possibility is “考えられる”. This literally means “Can think of”, and is sometimes used by police detectives when discussing different possibilities.
- It seem’s unlikely that the criminal already left Japan.
- But there is a possibility there was a accomplice.