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Was there ever a real distinction between the two? I always have the urge to use maybe for discussing state and perhaps for actions. I know this is only because perhaps (by hap) and happen (befall by hap) share a root, but at least it's logical. Am I totally misguided here?

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    @mplungjan: That page is mostly good, but I find it odd that (a) he says that "perhaps" is pronounced "praps" (it may be in some dialects, but not in "standard" British English), and (b) he considers that "You stupid idiot" is ever appropriate in polite conversation :)
    – psmears
    Feb 16, 2011 at 18:11
  • Hence I did not post it as an answer
    – mplungjan
    Feb 16, 2011 at 19:12
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    Mayhap, riddled the Riddler.
    – tchrist
    Dec 22, 2013 at 19:01
  • The title: "versus" — only on english.stackexchange.com
    – lindhe
    Feb 7, 2016 at 20:50

7 Answers 7

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The differences between perhaps and maybe are the following:

  • Maybe is used as a noun, in phrases like no ifs, buts, or maybes.
  • Perhaps is used in polite requests: would you perhaps consent to act as our guide?

The meaning of maybe is possibly, perhaps. Except in set phrases, you can replace maybe with perhaps. As far as I know, there is no distinction in the usage of the words you describe; both the words can be used with actions.

[The examples are taken from the NOAD]

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    possibly, perhaps: both the words are synonym to each other. How can this thing be meaningful? And one more thing, what is "set phrase"?
    – Mistu4u
    Oct 6, 2013 at 3:42
  • A set phrase is "an unvarying phrase having a specific meaning, such as raining cats and dogs, or being the only context in which a word appears, e.g., aback in take aback."
    – apaderno
    Oct 6, 2013 at 8:44
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I don't believe there's any discernable difference, and I can't think of a sentence where maybe and perhaps could be switched and change the meaning or sound awkward.

A search on WordNet shows both words are in the same Synset and aren't a member of any other Synset, if you take WordNet as being semi-authoritative…

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  • Defintely, Maybe
    – user3812
    Feb 17, 2011 at 7:30
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I have been studying these two words, and from the various contexts, perhaps is used at the beginning of an optative sentence, where one is hoping for something to be true, whereas with the word maybe, it is less wishful, and a bit more uncertain. I guess it is similar with the words may and might.

He may go to the party. (There is a fair possibility that he will go.)

He might go to the party. (There is a slight possibility that he will go.)

Perhaps he went to the party. (He may have gone to the party, so don´t worry about it.)

Maybe he went to the party. (There is a possibility that he went to the party, but I doubt it.)

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According to the Cambridge Dictionaries:

Maybe and perhaps are adverbs that mean the same thing. We use them when we think something is possible, but we are not certain. We use maybe mostly in front or end position whereas perhaps is used in front, mid and end position.

A: Have you seen my glasses? I can’t find them anywhere.

B: Maybe you left them at work.

A: Do you think these shoes are too high?

B: They are perhaps. (it’s possible but I’m not certain)

As you perhaps remember, I worked as an interpreter for three years in the European Parliament.

Not: As you maybe remember...

Perhaps is slightly more formal than maybe:

He was, perhaps, a little too smartly dressed for a holidaymaker.

Maybe I’ll finish work early tomorrow and go shopping with you.

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Perhaps is a synonym to maybe.

Perhaps is more formal and maybe is more casual—but the difference in tone is smaller than the difference between, say, "deceased" and "pushing up daisies." Perhaps is common in academic writing. Maybe is common in conversation.

Perhaps usually has the subtle implication that circumstance is involved—as if it depends on what might happen in the future, or requires some future discovery to prove it so. Maybe, on the other hand, seems more resigned—as if it implies that it may possibly already be so, or that it could be so according to fate/destiny.

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    This answer deserves more upvotes.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 13, 2017 at 19:07
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I think it's worth looking at the original literal meanings of each of those words, which for once are actually fairly apparent from their current spellings.

Maybe = "may be" => "it may be that".

Perhaps = "per haps" => "according to hap[penstance]" => "depending on chance". "Hap" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "fortune or chance".

From that, it would seem that "maybe" is the broader of the two, in that it doesn't imply that the speaker knows that the fact in question is subject to chance. One might say "maybe" to mean "I don't know, but possibly...", whereas "perhaps" has more of a connotation of "We'll see". Of course, that distinction is completely lost in our modern usage.

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Longman DCE simply says in # 1: perhaps, adverb: used to say that something may be true, but you are not sure; = maybe.

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