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As a non-native speaker of English, I was once told in London by a learned British man that I should not use 'maybe' for 'perhaps' in the UK, as by doing so, I'd be following an American usage (so I'll be recognized as not speaking really 'British', but mixing things up, which is never good, he insisted).

Is it indeed American to use maybe for perhaps, or is just a matter of formal vs. informal (or less formal)?

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    In America, perhaps is felt to be somewhat higher register, and perhaps faintly British, in intent at least. Maybe is the ordinary word. Commented May 30, 2013 at 3:21
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    @John: In the UK, maybe can sometimes be perceived as a "lower register", but it's perfectly common in speech and I doubt many people normally make a distinction. Having said that, perhaps is far more common in both US and US corpora in Google Books. I think OP's learned friend probably overstated the case, even allowing for the fact that he might also be somewhat behind the times. Commented May 30, 2013 at 3:51
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    Note that @JohnLawler did not say "... and maybe faintly British" :)
    – Kris
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 6:00
  • :) no ordinary word for no ordinary guy, right?
    – Jaccuse
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 6:05
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    To give someperspective on this, it is my personal experience that in the US only the most formal situatiion perhaps. It is in the same status as shall: it is recognizable in meaning to most people but would hardly if ever be used in day to day conversation.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 11:39

1 Answer 1

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Self-explanatory:

AmE-2009, maybe, perhaps
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BrE-2009, maybe, perhaps
enter image description here

English, maybe, perhaps
enter image description here

English Fiction-2009 maybe, perhaps
enter image description here

It appears that perhaps has always been more common, in AmE as well as BrE, though maybe seems to have become somewhat popular.

The trend in "English Fiction" shows that maybe is prevalent in informal writing (?because of use in speech) more than perhaps.

Even here, since 2005, maybe has been losing ground in written use.

I would believe the British are more "formal" even speech, whereas in the US, formal language appears only in serious writing.

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  • Thanks a lot. One thing's for sure: one can't go wrong using perhaps every time...
    – Jaccuse
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 5:54
  • Yes. Perhaps is the safer option. (Just not with the Am-teen crowd, though.) Do you see the nGrams? (I still don't.)
    – Kris
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 5:58
  • Yes, I do, they tell the full story.
    – Jaccuse
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 5:59

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