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I would like to know how to use them. Are they alike, or just two different words that can be used in the same way?

  • Perhaps none, or maybe too subtle. – Kris Jul 20 '14 at 5:52
  • "Maybe is normally used only at the beginning of a clause. Maybe he'll be prime minister one day. I do think about having children, maybe when I'm 40. Perhaps can be used in other positions in a clause." thefreedictionary.com/maybe – Kris Jul 20 '14 at 5:57
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    Maybe is a colloquial replacement to perhaps. On a scientific or technical paper, you should use perhaps, rather than maybe. And then on such a technical paper, you would also need to further justify your maybeness with more precision on the %age chance or degrees of freedom of the possibilities. – Blessed Geek Jul 20 '14 at 12:34
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There is, in fact, no commonly visible (as visible as words can be!) difference. Look at these circular definitions:

Maybe: Perhaps; Possibly.

Perhaps: Used to express uncertainty or possibility.

Possibly: Perhaps.

As you can see, they can all be used in the same way. However, there's a bit of a semantic and informal difference. Maybe is usually used informally, and it is derived from "it may be". It is more often used as a definite (as definite as maybe can be!) answer to a question. Example: "Can I do this?" "Maybe."

Perhaps is more formal, and is most often used to express uncertainty about an outcome or undertaking, and is more often used in response to a possibility (spoken by a second or third person) rather than a request. "Might this work?" "Perhaps."

Possibly is usually used in tandem with a possibility you yourself have said, rather than a possibility someone else has mentioned. Example: "My test could possibly fail."

TL;DR: They mean basically the same thing! You can use them interchangeably, but some work better than others in different situations.

  • I think you're right, there's no real difference, but if you look at the makeup of the words, you might argue 'maybe' refers to something in the future 'it may come to pass', while perhaps looks as if it 'might' (past tense) have happened. I guess you could make a rule out of that if you were really fastidious! – Pete855217 Jul 20 '14 at 6:37
  • You can make up a rule if it pleases you, and even use the words according to your rule. But unless you enrol other people to understand your rule, you are achieving nothing by doing so. – Colin Fine Jul 20 '14 at 12:10
  • I agree, you could make a meaning out of that, but I should think it'd still be prudent to know how the words are usually used in everyday discussion (although you certainly don't see Perhaps and Possibly as much as maybe!). – Jonathan Spirit Jul 20 '14 at 13:40
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Since the "hap" in "perhaps" means something like "chance, luck, fate," as does the "hap" in "happen" and the "hap" in "happy," I guess I think of "perhaps" as having to do with what might "happen" and "maybe" as having to do with what "may be" so, i.e., already is so.

Example:

"Maybe the suitcase is in the car." (It may be the case that the suitcase is in the car.)

"Perhaps the picnic will be rained out." (Through fate -- per haps -- the picnic will be rained out.)

Whether there's historic usage in support of that distinction, I don't know.

Again:

Perhaps = per haps = through fate

Maybe = may be = it may be

  • This reminds me of the bumblebee--if it knew about aerodynamics it couldn't fly. This definition makes perfect sense, but few people are familiar with it so actual usage probably tends to ignore it. But I like your observation. +1 – fixer1234 Mar 1 '17 at 16:26
  • Historically, English speakers and writers have also had the option of using mayhap (to say nothing of perchance). The fact that people couldn't maintain a clear distinction between perhaps and maybe may help explain why mayhap and perchance seem to have fallen by the wayside. Why try to juggle four words when you can't even tell two of them apart? – Sven Yargs Mar 2 '17 at 1:24
  • I'm glad, fixer1234, that the distinction resonates with you, even if usage doesn't quite support it. That's great, Sven Yargs, that you brought up those archaisms, "mayhap" and "perchance," which do seem to have to do with what might "happen." – user222985 Mar 17 '17 at 19:22
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Maybe and perhaps can be used interchangeably. "Maybe" is more in an informal context. "Perhaps" can be used both in a formal and an informal context.

To make it more clear, let's compare these 2 sentences:

  1. While writing a report: "Perhaps we will know the cost of the project by tomorrow."
  2. While talking to a friend: "Maybe I will come tomorrow."

But make sure that you use MAYBE as a single word. To make it more clear:

  1. Maybe : Meaning-> perhaps e.g: Maybe, it will stop raining soon.

  2. May be: Meaning-> possibly e.g: I got wet in the rain and I am feeling tired. May be I will catch a cold. [Here, I am pretty confident that I will catch a cold. Hence, I am using "May be"]

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Another possible difference between the two (maybe and perhaps) could be orientation, maybe being more subject-oriented (particular first person singular speaker, thus it's perceived as more colloquial and established as such in usage) while perhaps is more object-oriented (used outwards, in reference to the "objective" world).

  • Are you going to the party? Maybe, if my meeting ends on time.
  • Perhaps the committee will come to a decision soon.

protected by tchrist Sep 16 '17 at 12:25

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