Chance or opportunity?
[ 2007-03-27 11:29 ]

Reader question:
What's the difference between "chance" and "opportunity"?

My comments:
This is a good question raised by someone who's taken his chances with both words. He said: "I have seen both phrases - 'take the chance to do something' and 'take the opportunity to do something' - but whenever I write, I still wonder which word to use. Are they interchangeable?"

In situations where one wants to do something, the two words are often interchangeable. But we should always remember: Chance is a sometimes thing.

Or look at it this way: an opportunity is often a good chance, but not all chances are good opportunities. Not at all.

Chance, you see, involves risk. When we take a chance to do something, risk is often implied. It means we are not so sure, we are trusting luck, we are not fully confident with the opportunity presented.

To answer whether "chance" and "opportunity" are interchangeable, I think I perhaps could do better by pointing to a few situations where the two words are NOT interchangeable. Examples:

1. Take a chance with me.
That is the title of a song from Roxy Music, a British rock group.

2. Chance would be a fine thing.
That is a colloquial expression meaning: Not a chance!

3. Fat chance!
Another expression meaning: No chance.

4. Equal opportunity.
Meaning? The same chances for everybody, regardless of race, sex, age, hair color, etc.

With opportunities, in sum, one is positive. With chances, well, better be careful.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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