In my language chance means “şansă” (from French, chance) and always has a positive sense.

If we need to use the negative sense the word changes, taking the prefix “ne” and becomes “neşansă”, kind of “not chance”.

According to this quotation of Peter Benchley’s Jaws “bad luck, like a flash of lightning that hits a house.(…) It was pure chance.”, (page 65), it seems that in English “chance” can be understood in both senses positive and negative, which for me as a non-native is quite odd.

Is there another word in English that can express the negative meaning?


Taking into account helix’ helpful answer, the word “mischance”, I’m wondering what if the author had used it?

  • What's the difference between bad luck and neşansă? Is it the same as risk? //A little more context for those who don't speak French would be very helpful.
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 8, 2014 at 18:43
  • We have another term for bad luck, it is called “ghinion”, but is similar in meaning with neşansă, so there is no difference. No, risk has the same meaning in my language and it's written "risc". Apr 8, 2014 at 18:53
  • So why is "bad luck" wrong then? Or are you looking for a single word?
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 8, 2014 at 18:56
  • I didn't say it's wrong, just asked for one more word/words, if any. Apr 8, 2014 at 18:57
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    @LucianSava: the translations of your words are "luck" and "bad luck". There are also "fortune" and "misfortune" which are similar. Luck and fortune are generally good luck and good fortune, but would not be in statements such as "we are all slaves to fortune, whether good or ill". "Chance" as has been said is purely neutral.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 8, 2014 at 21:43

3 Answers 3


There's a word with a similar construction:


  • Bad luck

  • An unlucky occurrence

Etymology: (Old French) mescheance

Other candidates: mishap, misfortune, etc.

  • 1
    In most cases, I'd recommend your "other candidates" over mischance (but, as you said, mischance has a similar construction).
    – J.R.
    Apr 8, 2014 at 21:32
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    Yeah, I'm with @j.r.; "mischance" doesn't sound like a real word to me (not arguing that it is, just saying it doesn't sound right to me). So if the intent is to make speech/writing sound natural, I don't think "mischance" does the job.
    – WendiKidd
    Apr 8, 2014 at 22:34

I don't speak French so I make no claim to understanding the meaning and connotations of the French words you use. But in English, "chance" is neither negative nor positive, but is understood to mean that the results could go either way. That is, if you say, for example, "I took a chance when I hired Bob", the word "chance" here indicates that hiring Bob may turn out well for you or it may turn out badly. If you were quite confidant that it would turn out well, you wouldn't describe it as "taking a chance", by definition. If you just took it for granted that Bob would be a good employee, you wouldn't say you were taking a chance when you hired him. You might say, "I made a good decision when I hired Bob" or something of that sort.

  • So, if I say “I take my chance to do something” is like “I assume the risk, bet, gamble”? right? Apr 8, 2014 at 19:25
  • @LucianSava Yes
    – Jay
    Apr 8, 2014 at 20:30
  • 2
    @LucianSava I would say no, actually. Taking your chance means seizing an opportunity. Taking a chance has the meaning you've written. Apr 8, 2014 at 20:42
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    @LucianSava and then there's "taking my chances." This does mean assuming a risk. For example someone might tell me "You're not going to be able to get that done in time." to which I might respond "I'll take my chances." meaning that I may get it done and may not, but I will make the attempt.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 8, 2014 at 21:36

We have the same in Swedish. A chance in something positive, although many people use it wrong, I guess the English has made an impact on the usage. The negative version of chance, is at least in Sweden a "risk". There is a risk that you get cancer.... For example..

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – M.A.R.
    Jun 12, 2016 at 10:29
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    @TIPS 'There was a chance of rain.' 'There was a risk of rain.' The second is usually viewed more negatively - why do you believe this isn't an answer? Yes it talks about a translation from Swedish, but it is an English word that seems appropriate. More explanation would make it a better answer, but I do think it answers the question.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 12, 2016 at 11:04
  • @Zenobia You wrote the answer I was about to write :-) Jan 24, 2021 at 10:12

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