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 'Incredible' and 'unbelievable'

Irene Cordoba from Brazil asks:

I recently found the Learning English section of the BBC webpage (which was such a delight for me because I really love the language) and I was wondering if you could tell me the difference between incredible and unbelievable and the right uses of each of them.


Roger replies:

These two adjectives, incredible and unbelievable, are quite interchangeable and to these two you could add a third: unimaginable.

They all describe things or events which are so amazing that they cannot be imagined or believed.

Adverbial forms are incredibly, unbelievably and unimaginably.


You can substitute any of these adjectives or adverbs under discussion as you wish:
  • 'When she died, Aunt Isobel left me an incredible amount of money ?so much I didn't know what to do with it!'

  • 'I intend to work incredibly hard over the summer so that I pass my exams in September.'

  • 'My performance at the Christmas concert was unbelievably bad.'

  • 'The weather on the mountain yesterday was unbelievable. There was no chance of us getting to the top.'

  • 'The operation was performed under almost unimaginable conditions. It is unbelievable that he survived.'

  • 'The new computer game was unimaginably difficult. Neither Mike nor I could work out how to progress from level 1 to level 2.'