6

a.1) You have the opportunity to go to Norfolk next month.
a.2) *There is the opportunity of your going to Norfolk next month.

b.1) *You have the possibility to go to Norfolk next month.
b.2) There is the possibility of your going to Norfolk next month.

How are these two words different in their own usage to refer to future events when they are used in sentences like those shown above?

Searching on Google would prove that a.1) and b.2) are grammatical, but a.2) and b.1) are not. If so, why?

4

First and foremost, all four of those sentences are in fact grammatically correct. What Google demonstrates is that a.2 and b.1 are really awkward and therefore much less common.

In terms of the implications of the words themselves:

Opportunity often implies that it is an offer being extend or provided to you by a specific entity or person who is providing you with means or privilege otherwise unavailable to you. Sometimes there is no other party offering the opportunity, but there is always the sense of urgency, that it is a limited time deal, something that must be seized or it will be lost. There is generally a positive connotation: an opportunity is a good thing, something to be excited about.

Possibility simple implies that it is something that can happen, either because you decide to make it happen or because circumstances cause it to happen. There is no implicit positive or negative connotation here. There is also no implicit implication of the likelihood of the event happening. If it is possible, it may or may not happen.

In general, opportunities imply possibility, but not the other way around. If you are given the opportunity to go to Norway, then of course it is possible. But if you lived within driving distance of Norway, you wouldn't usually refer to your possibility of driving there at any moment as an "opportunity".

Some examples:

There is a distinct possibility that I may lose my job next week, but I have been given the opportunity to work at an exclusive Swedish design firm, so I'm not too bummed.

I really needed to talk to my professor. He was a busy man, so this was nearly impossible, but I happened to see him walking alone one day, so I seized the opportunity.




Interestingly, this Ngram suggests that in fact the usage of "opportunity to go" and "opportunity of going" have reversed in the last 200 years, with both being approximately equal in use around AD 1890-1900.

2

Although opportunity and possibility have similar meaning, they are quite different by usage and grammar:

  • Possibility conveys a meaning that something might be true (both currently or in the future). It is used with of or that:

There is a possibility that our project will fail;
There is a possibility of project failure;

Note the former is a complete sentence but latter is a bare noun.

  • Opportunity conveys a meaning that it is possible for someone to accomplish some goal (because of the luck or changed circumstances). It is used with a verb phrase:

After graduation, I will have an opportunity to find a good job;

Compare:

Despite the possibility of storms, I decided to take an opportunity to go to islands.

Note that opportunity usually means what someone is trying to accomplish, while possibility is just a matter or randomness.

2

I would word your example sentences slightly differently. Specifically, I'd be more inclined to use an indefinite article, and I'd probably use the prepositional phrase of you going in lieu of of your going. Thus:

a.1) You have an opportunity to go to Norfolk next month.
a.2) *There is an opportunity of you going to Norfolk next month.

b.1) *You have a possibility to go to Norfolk next month.
b.2) There is a possibility of you going to Norfolk next month.

With that said, your hunch is correct about how possibility and opportunity should be used. Possibilities are more impersonal, and describe circumstances; opportunities are tied to something positive for an individual. One might say that people live among possibilities, but they have opportunities. So, I might write:

There's a possibility I will get a new job.

or:

I have an opportunity to get a new job.

but I wouldn't swap those words in that context.

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