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Merriam Webster's defines "perchance" as:

"maybe but not definitely"

Similarly, the fifth definition of chance on Merriam Webster has "by chance" defined as:

"in the haphazard course of events"

The famous Shakespeare quote "to sleep, perchance to dream" would sound odd as "to sleep, by chance to dream." Conversely, I wouldn't think twice about asking someone either "do you by chance have a piece of gum," or "perchance do you have a piece of gum?" Would the second example be incorrect? I found this page from "The Grammarist" which would seem to indicate I'm using perchance wrong.

Both words are conditional words dependent on chance. Are they interchangeable, or only interchangeable in certain circumstances?

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  • The only difference between by chance and perchance is that you are more likely to hear the latter in the speech of older generations.
    – Anonym
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 21:56
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    @Anonym No, merely from more literate ones.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 21:58
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    @tchrist Perhaps. Truth be told, I have only heard perchance from Shakespeare, English professors, and my grandmother. Two qualities linked them, age and education. I neglected to mention one of the two.
    – Anonym
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 22:02
  • FWIW, Wiktionary has by chance with one definition as "Possibly; perhaps", which is the same as Webster's current definition of perchance: "PERHAPS, POSSIBLY". But there are no quotations or citations, otherwise I'd post an answer. Plus I'm not exactly sure when you'd use one or the other (since as Brian pointed out, they're not always interchangeable).
    – wjandrea
    Commented Jan 27 at 2:42

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As the page you link notes, the more current version and near-perfect synonym of perchance is perhaps (though oddly enough, “it may chance” is way more current than “it may hap”). Neither perchance nor perhaps is reliably interchangeable with by chance. “By chance I met him on the street” is not at all the same as “Perchance/Perhaps I met him on the street.” In the former, I definitely did meet him on the street, but the meeting was unplanned and unpredictable. In the latter, I am giving you no assurance that I met him on the street at all.

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    In common speech, I would say it’s rather an exaggeration to call either “it may chance” or “it may hap” any kind of current. Mayhap, perhaps; maybe perchance, by chance (possibly the most hedging and uncertain sentence I have ever written)—but not the fuller phrases. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 23:04

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