My basic knowledge of these two words is that they both mean the same thing. So why are they used differently, and what is their difference in meaning?
Let's get some standard definitions in here.
A proposal intended to explain certain facts or observations; a tentative insight into the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena.
A scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory.
A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena.
Theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses.
All from wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn.
A hypothesis is a testable prediction.
A theory is a tested, and usually widely accepted, hypothesis.
I think this is mainly related to their usage in american-english. Originally, these two words have very different meanings.
A hypothesis is an assumption made for the sake of argument.
Theory is the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another used to draw a conclusion or an explanation of some phenomenon. A theory may use a number of hypothesis to draw one, or more, conclusions.
Unfortunately, people often say "it's just a theory" almost as if theory was an assumption about something. Nonetheless, you can see the difference from the definitions above.
A hypothesis is something expected to be true, but not yet proved (Synonyms: presumption, assumption, conjecture). For example:
- The Continuum Hypothesis: There are more real numbers than integers.
- The Collatz Conjecture: If a number is even, find n/2; if it is odd, find 3n + 1. Upon repeating, one will reach the number 1 eventually.
However, a theory is a proposition which is most likely to be true, and is derived from other true statements (theorems). They may also be analyses of facts. For example:
- Game theory: A topic in economics based on real-life strategies.
- Set theory: A branch of mathematics focusing on sets, both in real life and theoretical.
Hypothesis is a single statement regarding relationship between variables that can be tested by observation. Hypotheses are usually formulated to support or deny theories. Usually, several hypotheses on a fact, if scientifically proven, become a theory.
A theory, on the other hand, is a systematic set of generalization that explains some phenomenal linking variables in order to come up with principles that are internally consistent. It should be noted that a theory is only accepted after successful researches on a certain formulation about a fact are done while a hypothesis is just a mere formulation of a fact.