Column: Chance vs. opportunity
Question: “Dear Grammar Guy, I would like to take this ‘chance’ to ask you about the use of ‘chance & opportunity’.
I see this as a real ‘opportunity’ to clear up the proper time to use each word.
Thank you for the ‘chance’ to write you. I can’t wait for the ‘opportunity’ to read your reply.” – (David Stratton)
Answer: This is a tricky one, David. We’ll see why in a moment.
Consider this example: Every child born in the United States has a chance of becoming president. Few of us, however, will have the opportunity.
In many circumstances, “chance” and “opportunity” are interchangeable. Merriam-Webster lists a primary definition for both of them of “an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done.”
Fortunately, our friends at the dictionary also offer a few more elucidative definitions for each. “Chance,” they say, is “the way that events happen when they are not planned or controlled by people” – or, more simply put, “the possibility that something will happen.” An “opportunity” according to Merriam-Webster, is “a favorable juncture of circumstances” or “a good chance for advancement or progress.” That last definition – “a good chance” – is the key here.
A “chance” is broad and undirected, like, for example, a job listing in a newspaper. Anyone can see the listing. Anyone can apply. An “opportunity” is specific and, importantly, positive. Continuing with our job listing, the “opportunity” is when they call you to offer you a trial run at the position.
“Opportunity” comes from “opportune,” meaning “suitable or convenient for a particular occurrence.” The “particular occurrence” part of that is your takeaway this week. A “chance” is a nebulous possibility that something might or might not happen. An “opportunity” is a good possibility of some particular, positive thing happening or being made to happen.