Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you ever heard somebody say “it’s a long shot” in English?

Is this one of those phrases that seems a bit confusing as you are just not sure of how or when to use it?

There are phrases that you use to sort of soften the situation, particularly when you are asking for something.

Today we’re going to look at the phrase “it’s a long shot” and others like it, and how you can use this in the right situation to make things more positive and peaceful.

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How To Use This Phrase

Recently I sent Jessica a message trying to see if she could meet with me.

I used the expression “it’s a long shot” because I asked her with very little notice or time to prepare, but still figured there was a possibility it would work out.

This made me realize how useful this phrase is, and how often we may use it.

So what does it mean?

When we say “it’s a long shot”, what exactly do we mean by this?

It means there is little chance of something happening.

It can be used in many ways, and so you may hear it come up often in conversation.

You may think of sports when you hear this phrase, though there are multiple uses for it if you look at it closely.

You want to know how to use it in conversation, and then you can also be sure to listen for it as it may come up more than you might realize.

The Various Uses For This Phrase

So when you say “it’s a long shot”, you now know it means that there is very little chance of something happening.

It may not be that you are limiting yourself or being negative, but rather that you are being realistic in your assessment and your assumptions.

There are actually multiple ways to use this phrase, or situations where it may come up most frequently.

Let’s look at a couple of these examples so that you can understand when you might expect to hear or to use this phrase in your own conversations.

  • Sports: You may hear this used often when it comes to the lesser likelihood that a certain team may win. If you are rooting for the underdog for example, or the team that is not favored, then you may use this phrase to talk about their chances of winning. You might say “It’s a long shot, but the team may actually win this one.”
  • Getting a job: If you are in a highly competitive field, or you know that you are up against multiple qualified candidates. Sometimes a sought after job may be hard to get, and so you may describe it in this way. You might say something like “There are 100 applicants, so it’s a long shot. Maybe I have a chance, though.”
  • Getting a house: When the real estate market is good, you may be competing for a house amongst multiple interested parties. You may really want this house, but recognize that the competition for it is tight. You might hear something like “There were 12 offers on the house, so it’s a long shot.”
  • If an answer is right: You might hear this phrase used in this capacity for something like a game show for example. You may use this to answer a question in everyday life, for which you really aren’t sure if you have the correct idea or solution. You could say something like “Ok, I’m going with B. I know nothing about this topic, so it’s a long shot, but yes, B.”
  • Scheduling: If you are trying to schedule a meeting or some time with somebody and you know that you aren’t giving them much notice, then this works well. If you aren’t giving much time to prepare or you are trying to squeeze in time, then you could use this phrase perfectly for the situation. This works particularly well in a business setting when you are trying to schedule a meeting. You could say “I know it’s a long shot, but I’m around this afternoon if you have a few minute to talk.”

With scheduling, this phrase is useful because it shows people you respect their time and realize things may not happen how you want.

Using this phrase is showing that you wanted to at least try to schedule and make it happen, but that you are ok with whatever the outcome is.

It shows you are flexible, friendly, and it gives the person the chance to say no without feeling funny about it.

It’s recognizing that you are aware of something deeper than just the actual work, so it’s all about adding in compassion and also a bit of personality as well.

Roleplay To Help

You can see that this is a phrase used in multiple ways, and so it’s an instance where a roleplay may be quite helpful.

In this roleplay, the two are sisters talking through things and using this phrase.

A: “I have so much work to do.”

B: “Me too. Ugh. Hey, I know it’s a long shot, but do you think you could pick up Tracy from school?”

A: “I’m really sorry, I can’t.”

How did that exchange go?

How did the speakers feel?

The phrase presented a way to say something honestly without any hurt feelings.

The exchange seemed to go well, and the phrase softened the request a bit.

In turn, the other person was very honest in that they couldn’t help—so hopefully the outcome is that everyone is happy and comes away from this conversation feeling fine.

Other Ways To Say This

Though the phrase “it’s a long shot” comes up often in conversation, there are other ways to say this same sort of thing.

What are other ways to say this and get the same sort of effect in conversation?

  • Slim chance/Chances are slim: You are recognizing upfront that this is a remote possibility. You know that there is a great likelihood that this won’t happen, but you are still putting it out there just in case. You could say “I know there’s a slim chance X may happen, but I figured it never hurts to try.”
  • On the off-chance: This is another way to say it, but in a bit more of an indirect way. You recognize that this is not likely a possibility, but you are going to throw it out there just in case. You could say something like “I know you’re probably busy, but on the off-chance that you have a second, I’m right around the corner if you want to meet.”
  • Remote possibility: This says it in a direct and almost tangible way. You are throwing it out there to say it’s a greater likelihood that it won’t happen, but you will mention it just in case. You might say something like “I don’t think this is the right answer, but there’s a remote possibility.”

All of these phrases work quite well, and they can be used in the same sort of way.

Though you may not be able to do something or you may have a request that is out there, these phrases can help you to soften things and work quite well in these situations.


This is such a great expression, and one that you are likely to hear used quite a bit.

We spoke about our thoughts, how to use it, and what it does in conversation.

This is a phrase that leaves the door open for getting the answer “no” or for being wrong, and that’s okay.

Sometimes that’s what we need, and so this phrase and others like it can be quite useful and may therefore come up often.

Try using this phrase, and see how well it works when you are trying to convey this same thing in any of these types of situations.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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