Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of September 18, 1998
Opportunity and Possibility

This week's lesson concerns the difference between "opportunity" (fr. occasion, de. Gelegenheit) and "possibility" (fr. possibilité, de. Moeglichkeit). Non-native speakers frequently confuse them. Here are their definitions.

"I have the possibility to visit the Pope." has a different sense than "I have the opportunity to visit the Pope." In the former, you imply that your schedule and the Pope's are synchronized well enough such that you may see each other. In the latter, you place great value on your visit with the Pope, you are glad that you will see him, and you consider yourself lucky that you can.

Similarly, telling a graduate in computer science "There are good possibilities in information technology." is different saying "There are good opportunities in information technology." The former draws attention to the dynamic market, and the potential for an individual to make a contribution. The latter emphasizes that the graduate chose her profession in a timely way.

Are these sentences correct?

1. Netscape continues to grow and has many resources. There are many opportunities at Netscape for a bright young person. NO
2. Their personnel officer will be interviewing on campus next week. What a possibility! NO
3. Unless you pass your exams, there's no possiblity that they will hire you. YES
4. I have the opportunity to interview you Friday afternoon. NO
5. My new job exactly fits my career plan. It's a great opportunity. YES

There are three kinds of mathematicians:  those who can count and those who can't.

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Created September 10, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.