What are the differences between "maybe", "perhaps", "possibly", and "probably"?

These are a few different ways to answer a question if you don't want to say "Yes" or "No":

Maybe.

Perhaps.

Probably.

Possibly.

So how are they different from each other?

 

Different meanings

First, you should know that there are three levels of possibility:

  • Use "probably" to say that something has a high chance of happening - 50% or greater.
  • Use "possibly" to say that something has a low chance of happening - 50% or less.
  • Use either "maybe" or "perhaps" to say that something has an equal chance of happening or not happening.

 

Levels of formality

What's the difference between "maybe" and "perhaps", then? The difference is in how formal they are. "Maybe" is more casual:

A: Are you going to Ezra's party?

B: Maybe. You?

"Perhaps" is more formal:

A: Would it be possible to change my seat number?

B: Perhaps. Please hold while I check.

 

How to use them

As mentioned above, you can use "maybe", "perhaps", "possibly", and "probably" to answer someone's question:

A: Do you think you'll get a chance to visit your cousin Ito while you're in town?

B: Maybe. It depends on how busy I end up being with work stuff.

You can also use these words before "a ___", "an ___", or "the ___":

That's probably a bad decision.

This is possibly the worst meal I've ever had.

I'm maybe an inch taller than him.

You can use some of these words between "could be", "might be", "may be", "should be", and so on:

This could possibly be the last time we ever see each other.

We should probably be thankful that it didn't turn out worse.

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