Can anyone suggest a word that means "tentative theory," or a working draft of a theory that may need revision later?

marked as duplicate by JJJ, Edwin Ashworth, tchrist May 6 '18 at 22:21

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  • 3
    Are you thinking of [working] hypothesis? – Jim May 6 '18 at 18:23
  • @Jim I think that's the best answer. You should turn it into one . . . – Jason Bassford May 6 '18 at 18:38
  • Thanks, but not quite. I'm looking for a word that has a less clinical, scientific ring to it. And generally a hypothesis is something that you go out and actually test. In contrast, I'm thinking of something that you hold onto and work with, while being willing to adjust should something come up that challenges the theory. There may, of course, be no word for that. – Denise Wilbur May 6 '18 at 19:02
  • Well there’s your going-in position – Jim May 6 '18 at 19:28
  • Maybe you want something as simple as assumption – Jim May 9 '18 at 14:29

First of all, the word theory itself has a sense of uncertainty. In science, an idea remains a theory until it has been proved empirically. This is even more obvious in the cognate adjective theoretical and its adverb theoretically.

Hypothesis is more obviously tentative. That is why politicians regularly decline to answer a hypothetical question.

The thesaurus in Oxford Dictionaries Online gives you a menu of possibilities, depending on the degree of uncertainty.

Guess is probably too extreme. Surmise might do.

intuition (not mentioned in the above thesaurus) might be (tentatively, of course) worth considering.


Based on the comments appended to the OP, what's you're describing is simply (and still) a theory:

A scientific theory is not the end result of the scientific method; theories can be proven or rejected, just like hypotheses. Theories can be improved or modified as more information is gathered so that the accuracy of the prediction becomes greater over time.

A scientific theory both 1) explains all known facts, and 2) makes testable predictions. Some of those predictions may fail to come to pass, or new facts may emerge, in which case the theory has to be modified to accommodate them.

The linked article goes on to make a useful distinction between a law and a theory:

A law is a description of an observed phenomenon in the natural world that hold true every time it is tested. It doesn't explain why something is true; it just states that it is true. A theory, on the other hand, explains observations that are gathered during the scientific process.

What you're thinking of as a "tentative" theory may describe a theory that doesn't have the weight of observational evidence behind it as, say Einstein's Theory of Gravitation. Nevertheless, if the theory explains all known facts, however scant they may be, it's still a viable theory.

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