If you want to test a notion or sketch a possible scenario for an audience, you can state that you are ‘speaking hypothetically’.
The phrase is used as a safeguard should the idea prove to be untrue, dubious or nonsensical in the future.
Words associated with speaking hypothetically, include speculation, conjecture and debatable.
What is the Meaning of the phrase ‘Hypothetically speaking’?
The adverb, ‘hypothetically, is derived from the noun, ‘hypothesis’, which means an assumption or the basis for further discussion, research or exploration. When people speak hypothetically, they are basing what follows on an unproven notion.
Speaking hypothetically in science – Hypothesis, Theory and Law
People often interchange the expression, ‘speaking hypothetically’ and ‘speaking theoretically’, as if they mean the same thing. In scientific terms, these are different concepts, and should be placed on a continuum.
A hypothesis is an unproven inference drawn from limited information available. In research proposals, it is the basis stated for further exploratory research on some situation or phenomenon that has potential to be proven.
In Antarctica, one of the mountains over 1000 meters has been named, Mount Hypothesis, in order to commemorate the role that hypotheses have played in the research conducted on the continent.
A theory, on the other hand, is more concrete and can be stated with more certainty. Research has been conducted to prove that there is some merit in what is being asserted.
Famous theories include the Big Bang Theory, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
None of these are fact, and are often the cause of raging debates among scientists.
Laws are immutable, for example, Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, sometimes called the Law of Gravity. Laws are more scientifically robust and are generally reduced to a formula.
Usually, in order to develop a theory or law, the required research is kickstarted with a hypothesis.
Speaking hypothetically in everyday language
In everyday language, one can hypothesize about anything, from the weather to the outcome of an election, or the state of the economy this time next year.
It amounts to speculation because it is not based on facts or provable evidence.
Speaking hypothetically is conjecture. It is linked to imagination, and is usually expressed in the future tense.
Hypotheses versus wishes
Hypothetical scenarios are sketched using ‘what if’ or ‘suppose’ statements, among others. They are distinguished from expressing wishes or desires.
When speaking hypothetically, the present tense is used.
This is different from wishes which are expressed in the past tense.
Likely and unlikely hypotheses
A likely scenario is expressed in the present tense, even though the event is in the future.
An unlikely scenario is expressed in the past tense
The past tense is used for unlikely situations in general.
Implicit and explicit speech
The examples cited above are implied hypotheses. Often, when a person is about to make a statement which is based on an assumption or hypothesis, they will state so explicitly.
The term can also be used in the second or third person, when referring to someone else’s statement.
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