Theoretically vs. hypothetically


Need help settling an argument! My girlfriend and I were getting ice cream with a friend a couple of weeks ago from a popular street vendor. The line was fairly long. Long story short, we ordered our ice cream and waited for our order to be completed. She got hers first, and said, "Hypothetically, yours is next." (Because I ordered right after her.) To which I responded, "No, theoretically mine is next."


The rest, as they say, is history. She claims that "hypothetically" is the right word when talking about pending ice cream order completions, whereas I say "theoretically." We've both looked up the definitions of the words and are still sticking to our opinions.


Who is right? Please say I am; she's right about everything else, so I could really use a victory!

Another way to think of the difference:Hypothetically - For the sake of argument, let's pretend the situation is thus and so.Theoretically - My experiences leads me to believe the situation is thus and so.

Lewis NeidhardtMay 18 '14 at 14:12

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2 answers


Oh, I love these sort of discussions!  Perhaps Lewis will chime in on the "happy wife, happy life" theory.  I know she's not your wife, but this is a good time to practice.  ;-)


I found an article to explain the difference between a hypothesis and a theory, scientifially speaking. (I will add the link in a comment because it doesn't let me insert it in this box.)


This is the one sentence in the article that tells us who is right or wrong:

One definition of a theory is to say it's an accepted hypothesis.


Now, that might indicate that you are both right.  This is why you can't decide - because she had a hypothesis and you had a theory based on the same circumstances.  But here's why she wins:  You said, "No."  What you should have said it, "Yes, I accept your hypothesis and call it a theory!" You blew it, Andrew.  You could have both been right and scored a point at the same time.


Here's a tip if you want to have a victory in the future.  When she says something you disagree with (something that doesn't affect your life in a grave way) say, "You may be right."  Done.  Bite your lip.  Don't follow with, "But here's why you are wrong."  The victory you get is that you still know what is right and she is happy.


That's my opinion and my mom advice for the day. :-)

link answered May 16 '14 at 22:28 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

Patty TMay 16 '14 at 22:29

Haha thank you! Believe me, I have no problem admitting she's right. Like I said, she's been right every other time. ;)

But I have noted your wise advice and I'll keep it in mind! :)

Andrew FendrichMay 18 '14 at 12:27

The good news is, there's still time to redeem the situation, as it's still an unresolved debate. So I can say to her, "I got an answer from an unbiased third party, and honey, you were right." :)

Andrew FendrichMay 18 '14 at 12:44


Patty TMay 18 '14 at 17:14

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"You may be right" is a brilliant answer. It's like a beautiful day in May with a warm wind and unicorns prancing about.  "Yeah, whatever" is like that November day with heavy cloud cover and a biting wind blowing out of the north over Lake Erie.

link comment answered May 17 '14 at 11:06 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

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