I was watching a motivational video by Elon Musk on Youtube(here). He using "odds" frequently in the speech. For instance this :

"When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor."

Please tell me what does "odds" mean in this sentence.

4 Answers 4


When used in this way, the


is another way of describing the probability of success. Instead of a coin flip being 50% heads / 50% tails, the odds are 1:1.

It is a way of quoting probabilities mainly used by people who gamble.

Musk is using it to say the one still does something eventhough the probability of success is not in one's favor.


The plural noun "odds" means chances or likelihood.

If you say that the odds are not in your favour, it means (the) chances are/it's likely that you will not succeed.

  • Is my impression wrong that his use of "odds" has an air of "external circumstances"? I feel he is implying that you may be able to alter the actual, overall odds in your favor if you apply yourself passionately. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 14:38
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica It may well be true that you can alter the odds by taking the appropriate steps, but that's not implied by use of the word "odds". We routinely talk about the odds of winning at roulette or the lottery, etc, where there's nothing you can do to alter the probabilities (other than cheating somehow).
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 15:34

Here it is meant allegorically for the ratio that a bookmaker will give you on a bet.

Literally this word - in this use - means how much you will win if you have bet money on it. But it is quite common to use it in this way to describe that a situation does not have a good chance.

Examples: "Hey bookmaker! What are the odds on Arsenal tonight?" "It's 1.5 to 1, but I'll give you 5:1 on them winning by 2 points or more. Are you in?"

Note that even though you say that the odds are not good about a situation that is unlikely, such a situation would actually have good odds, since the bookmaker doesn't think he'll have to pay anyone winnings on it. The correct way to use the idiom would be like Elon Musk does "the odds are not in your favour" - meaning that the bookmakers don't believe in you.

This is a literal thing in sports and other things that are betted on, generally the bookmakers are right, and if the odds aren't in your favour you will probably not win.


Adding the following not covered in the other answers. The phrase "good/bad odds" is often used in games where chance plays a role (my experience is with bridge, but the same undoubtedly applies to poker as well as possibly all betting/gambling).

  • "good odds" = the probability is in your favor, or your way of playing is likely to succeed
  • "bad odds" = your way of playing is unlikely to succeed

Caveat: Non-native speaker here. I dare not speculate how common the phrases "good/bad odds" are in comparison to, say, "favourable odds" or "against the odds".

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