15 ways to say ‘maybe’
We’ve already given you the lowdown on the many and various ways you can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and now we want to liven up the vocabulary of the less committed. What happens if you want to stay on the fence and say ‘maybe’? Don’t worry; we’ve got your back.
Archaic or humorous now, peradventure sounds unusually adventurous, but actually comes from the French per aventure, meaning ‘by chance’, on the same model as perchance.
…and, indeed, the much more common perhaps. This everyday word has stuck around after the disappearance of its etymon hap, which meant ‘good fortune, good luck’ or ‘the chance or fortune that falls to a person’. Hap also survives in mishap and happen, and…
…mayhap! This term is also listed as archaic in OxfordDictionaries.com, but you may well come across it in humorous contexts. Our New Monitor Corpus currently lists 112 examples of mayhap and 160 of mayhaps in the past few years, compared (say) to only 46 of peradventure, so it’s clearly not faded away completely yet. It’s not in the same league as perhaps, at 975,735 examples, though.
Continuing with words related to hap, there was also the option of uphap to mean ‘perhaps, possibly’ in Medieval English, though it is now obsolete. Haps, by itself, was also once an option, and is now most often encountered as a noun, as in what’s the haps.
There is a raft of may- words which can be used instead of maybe, and which follow the same pattern. If may-tide doesn’t tickle your fancy, other archaic synonyms for maybe include may chance, may-fall, and may-fortune.
Like peradventure, the obsolete aunters comes ultimately from the French aventure. It could also mean ‘in any case, at all events’, which might lead to confusion – but luckily these senses were used a couple of centuries apart.
An obsolete meaning of the common word lightly was ‘as may easily happen; probably, perhaps’, as in ‘There happens lightly some ugly little contrary accident’ (1672). This can be compared with the German vielleicht and Dutch wellicht, both meaning ‘perhaps’ and using leicht and licht, the respective words for the adjective ‘light’.
If p’raps strikes you as a modern abhorrence, then you might like to know that it has a surprisingly long history. While perhaps has doubtlessly been shortened in pronunciation even longer, the earliest known written example of this variant is as far back as the 18th century, in a poem called ‘Cadenus and Vanessa’ by Jonathan Swift: “Ay’ b’t then, p’rhaps, says you, t’s a m’rry Whim.” Incidentally, Swift also invented the name ‘Vanessa’ in this poem.
Speaking of written variants relating to pronunciation, mebbe is also on the table. Often written down with humorous or colloquial intent, the earliest known instance (spelled mebby) is in J.T. Brockett’s 1825 A Glossary of North Country Words.
Used chiefly in southern Scotland and northern England, the now-rare adverb ables comes from the much more popular adjective able (which was also once used as an adverb).
Used in Scottish and Irish English, and in some parts of northern England, aiblins comes from able and the regional suffix –lings.
Yimkin is a loanword from Iraqi Arabic, where it means ‘perhaps’. Slang use in English dates to the 1920s, and it has been suggested that it came from soldier terminology.
It is possible that…
If you want to dance around something, the phrase it is possible that is a great way to offer some misdirection.
If you don’t want to commit yourself immediately, you might opt for weather permitting or variants on this pattern. While this can be simply literal – plans may change depending on the weather – it has also taken on a transferred, broader use.
Depending on circumstances
Like weather permitting, the phrase depending on circumstances is a nice way to evade commitment.