Two weeks ago I did an English test. I was asked the following question:
(or something like this, I don't remember the exact question)

A classmate is trying to do his homework, but he doesn't know how to do it. You do know how to do it. How can you say you can help him?

My answer:

"Maybe I can help you?"

This was not the correct answer. The correct answer was:

"Perhaps I can help you?"

I asked my teacher why my answer wasn't correct. She said: 'I don't exactly know how to explain that, but it has something to do with being polite. I'll come up with a better example next time.'

Is there really a difference between 'Maybe' and 'Perhaps'? And was my answer a valid alternative?

  • 'Perhaps' seems ever so slightly more formal to me, but I think neither is more polite. 'Maybe I can help you?' sounds a bit more cordial to me. – Aeon Akechi May 10 '16 at 19:07
  • 2
    While this is a perfectly valid question for this site, I wonder if you might get more useful answers at our site specifically for those learning English, English Language Learners. – Marthaª May 10 '16 at 19:07
  • No one uses 'perhaps' anymore in AmE. 'Perhaps' is too formal/dated. For class, your teacher is always right, but when talking with AmE speakers, your answer is what you would use. – Mitch May 10 '16 at 19:24
  • ... Yes; as a Brit, I'd use 'Can I help?' or 'Perhaps I could help you?', but I'd expect 'Maybe I can help [you]?' in the States. The question is poor. – Edwin Ashworth May 11 '16 at 0:40

If your teacher can't explain why one word is better than another, then she didn't teach you; and so has no right to expect the correct answer. The nuance between 'maybe' and 'perhaps' is too fine to make one 'incorrect'.

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