“Hypothetically Speaking” vs “Theoretically Speaking” – Easy Usage Guide

The two phrases “hypothetically speaking” and “theoretically speaking” are great phrases you can add to your writing to introduce new and exciting ideas. However, it’s important to know what the differences are between their uses. In this article, we will explore them further.”

What Is The Difference Between “Hypothetically Speaking” And “Theoretically Speaking”?

“Hypothetically speaking” should be used when you want to put forward an idea that you know won’t happen. “Theoretically speaking” should be used when you want to put forward a theory that something is possible, even if it doesn’t always work in practice.

What Is The Difference Between "Hypothetically Speaking" And "Theoretically Speaking"?

The meaning of “hypothetically,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “in a way that is imagined or suggested but not necessarily real or true.”

The meaning of “theoretically,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “in a way that obeys some rules but is not likely.”

Both ideas are used to present a discussion that we know most likely won’t happen. However, “hypothetically” is more closely linked to ideas that aren’t real or are impossible in some way. “Theoretically” is more likely to happen because it obeys rules, but it’s still not likely.

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7 Examples Of How To Use “Hypothetically Speaking” In A Sentence

It’s time to go through some examples of how we might use the two phrases in a sentence. We’ll start with the less likely option, “hypothetically speaking.” It’s common to see this used before presenting an idea that we know is impossible or not real.

  1. Hypothetically speaking, if I took this ice cream and left it out, it would form an arctic sub-environment, right?
  2. Hypothetically speaking, a criminal is innocent until you find damning evidence?
  3. If, say, hypothetically speaking, someone managed to get stuck in a well, what would you have to do next?
  4. Hypothetically speaking, how many feathers would you require to kill a walrus?
  5. Hypothetically speaking, how long would it take to walk to China from Texas?
  6. Hypothetically speaking, we could get to space in less time than we could get to the South Pole if planes went up higher.
  7. Hypothetically speaking, aliens already know we exist and are just waiting for us to figure it out.

As you can see from these examples, there are two main scenarios where we might use “hypothetically speaking.”

We can use “hypothetically speaking” to put forward an idea that we know probably isn’t real, but we still want to present it anyway (i.e., the alien example). We can also use it to introduce an idea of something we might have done but don’t want to attribute to ourselves.

Generally, if someone has done something either stupid or dangerous, we might introduce an idea to someone else by saying:

  • If, hypothetically speaking, my friend can’t find a girlfriend, what would you say to him?

In this case, it’s almost always the case that “my friend” is actually the person speaking, rather than someone they know. The “hypothetically speaking” is used to set up a false scenario where their friend is having an issue, but usually, the issue more closely relates to the speaker.

This is why “hypothetically speaking” is used more in this way as well because it creates a fake “friend” or person that we talk about in the sentence. Most of the time, people will understand that you’re referring to yourself if you use “hypothetically speaking” in this way.

7 Examples Of How To Use “Theoretically Speaking” In A Sentence

Now let’s go over some examples of when “theoretically speaking” is the more appropriate choice. Sometimes, this one is reserved for more scientific facts and statements, but it’s possible to see it in more casual senses too.

  1. Theoretically speaking, how fast can you spin a bike wheel?
  2. Theoretically speaking, it’s possible to visit every country in the world in less than a year.
  3. Theoretically speaking, you will find life at some point in the universe because it’s simply too vast to be empty.
  4. Theoretically speaking, there will never be a rockstar like Elvis again.
  5. Theoretically speaking, could you complete a marathon in under two hours consistently?
  6. Theoretically speaking, it’s possible to stand on two continents at once if you’re in the right country.
  7. Theoretically speaking, science only works if you’re brave enough to try stupid things.

As you can see, we present ideas that are possible in theory but might not be executable as easily in practice. “Theoretically speaking” sets us up nicely to believe in potential outcomes, even if it’s not realistic to achieve them.

Let’s look a bit deeper at one of them:

  • Theoretically speaking, it’s possible to visit every country in the world in less than a year.

In theory, it is possible to achieve this feat. You could easily visit every country in the world in less than a year. However, in practice, this would require you to visit a new country every two days on average (there are 195 countries in the world).

The likelihood that someone would want to only spend two days in a country is very slim, as they won’t get much enjoyment out of it. You also have to think about which countries you visit and whether you’d be allowed or want to go (i.e., dangerous countries or war-ridden ones). Finally, you’d need a lot of money to get around and stay comfortable throughout the trip.

So, yes, in theory, you could visit every country in less than a year. In practice, it won’t be enjoyable and will be incredibly dangerous.

Hypothetical – Synonyms

Let’s go through some alternatives we might be able to use in place of “hypothetical” or “hypothetically speaking.” These will help you explore new words with similar meanings.

  • Pretend for a second

We can use this phrase to ask someone to “pretend” to believe something with us. It’s a good phrase that’s used casually and informally in a few situations.

  • Suppose

You can say, “suppose this happens, will that happen” as an example sentence. “Suppose” is used to encourage someone to think about something that might not be likely.

Theoretical – Synonyms

Now let’s see what we can come up with instead of using “theoretical” and “theoretically speaking.”

  • Thinking about it

If we start a sentence or clause with “thinking about it,” we convey a similar meaning to saying “theoretically speaking.” We’re pondering the idea of the theory, even if it doesn’t necessarily work in practice.

  • Analytical

Analytical is a synonymous word for theoretical, but it’s far less likely to be used. Still, you can use it in place of “theoretical” in your sentence if you’d like to.

Is Hypothetical And Hypothesis The Same Thing?

The word “hypothetical” comes from the stem word “hypothesis,” which is something often discussed when people do research papers. However, the two words are not the same.

The meaning of “hypothesis,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “an idea or explanation for something that is based on known facts but has not yet been proved.”

Generally, you will discuss a hypothesis at the start of a research paper or essay to establish what you’re looking to prove. That’s different from using “hypothetical,” which is basically a scenario or idea that we know isn’t real but still want to try anyway.

The two words are closely linked, and the meaning for “hypothetical” actually stems from the meaning of “hypothesis,” but they’re not the same word.

Is A Scenario Hypothetical?

Whenever we discuss a scenario, it’s important to know whether it’s hypothetical or not. Nine times out of ten, scenarios are fake things and events that we’ve designed to help us explain something.

Scenarios are usually hypothetical because they’re not real. They are used to help us explain something that we might not otherwise be able to explain with simple wording. “Hypothetical” works well when we describe scenarios.

Does Hypothetical Mean Fake?

Hypothetical is closely linked with things being fake as well, but this doesn’t always need to be the case. Usually, a hypothetical event is a fake thing that we’ve made up to either explain something or put forward a new idea.

Hypothetical usually means fake, but it can also be related to scenarios that we perceive as real. If we’ve created a scenario to explain something, we don’t need to include any “fake” things and can even use real people. This scenario would still be “hypothetical” but would not be “fake.”

What Is The Meaning Of Hypothetical Question?

When we ask someone a hypothetical question, we’re asking them something that’s unlikely to happen but we want to find out their answer anyway.

For example:

  • What would you only have thirty minutes before you die?
  • You have one million dollars to spend in one hour. How do you do it?

These questions are both hypothetical. For the most part, the content of these questions won’t happen and are only referring to a hypothetical scenario. They’re designed to get us thinking to see how we’d deal with it.

What Is The Opposite Of Hypothetically Speaking?

When you want to use the opposite phrase or word for “hypothetically speaking,” there are a few good options out there.

  • Realistically

This is a good one to use when you want to stay real and keep an even mind about your answer. It implies that if something really happens, what would you do about it.

  • Literally speaking

Speaking literally is something we do when we’re explaining a literal thing, meaning it’s a real thing that’s happening.

What Is The Opposite Of Theoretically Speaking?

We can also look at the opposite words and phrases associated with “theoretically speaking.” If you don’t want to speak in theory, then these might be a better option.

  • Practically speaking

“Practically” means that something has been proven and is being done in a practical sense. This is the perfect antonym (opposite) to “theoretically speaking” and the only one you need.

What Does Theoretically Possible Mean?

We might also find ourselves or someone saying that something is “theoretically possible.”

“Theoretically possible” means that something is possible to do in theory but might not be executable in practice.

It’s just another way of saying “theoretically speaking.” Look at the following examples:

  • Theoretically speaking, you can visit every country in the world in less than a year.
  • It’s theoretically possible to visit every country in the world in less than a year.

Both of these examples explain the same theoretical point that we discussed earlier. Also, both examples are grammatically correct. It’s up to you which one you’d rather use based on how you write and which one you’re more comfortable with.

What Is The Difference Between Technically And Theoretically?

When we talk about something “theoretically,” we’re talking about it being possible to do something in theory, but not so much in practice. This is different from using the word “technically.”

“Technically” means that we’re referring our statement to facts or a strict technique. That means that something has already been proven to be the case and is therefore no longer a theoretical concept.

“Technically” is similar to the opposite word of “theoretically,” which is “practically.” However, it’s more closely related to the meaning of the word “strictly,” saying that something is the one and only way you can do or say something else.

What Is The Difference Between Theoretically And Practically?

We’ve already mentioned the major differences between using “theoretically” and “practically,” but let’s elaborate.

“Practically” is the opposite of “theoretically” and means that we’ve tested something in a practical manner (and usually found the proof of what we needed).

When used in this context, the two words are opposites of each other and work really well to show this.

What Is The Difference Between Theoretically And Figuratively?

Finally, let’s look at the difference between “theoretically” and “figuratively.”

“Figuratively” means the same as “metaphorically,” and we use it to talk about words that are no longer related to their literal sense or meaning.

“Figuratively” refers to something that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t exist, while “theoretically” is used to talk about something that might exist, we just have to either prove it or accept that we can’t do it in practice.