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LanguageTool’s Mixed Bag—August 2021

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Differences between “perhaps” and “maybe,” “definitely” and “definitively,” and the use of “literally.”

This mixed bag is full of surprises. Learn about three tricky cases of word choice.
We present three tricky challenges when it comes to word choice.

Some topics are essential, but don’t need long explanations. That’s why Insights bundles them up into one article once a month. This time, we focus on word choice and try to summarize the distinction between perhaps and maybe, as well as definitely and definitively. Additionally, we critique the popularity of literally as a metaphorical intensifier.

“Perhaps” versus “Maybe”

In order to express uncertainty about a statement, English speakers might want to say that something may happen. There are two words that express this 50% chance of reality:

Perhaps and Maybe

These two words have almost the same meaning, which makes them nearly synonymous. In terms of probability, both words are between “possibly” and “probably.” In addition, they can be used as adverbs as well nouns. 

In a grammatical and pragmatical sense, they do have very subtle differences.

Perhaps you’ve already heard of them, but maybe those are new to you.

By the way: According to some sources, “perhaps” shows a higher frequency in British English than in American English. Other sources don’t mention this preference.

“Definitely” versus “Definitively”

There are some really similar word pairs out there that often confuse. For instance, if you receive a “definite” answer, that leaves more room for interpretation than any “definitive” statement would. So go ahead and convince people with definitive statements!

The Literal and Metaphorical Use of “Literally”

A great example of literal and metaphorical use of the same word is the name giver itself:


Especially in informal language, you can use literally to emphasize an exaggeration even more:

I’ve literally eaten a horse!

LanguageTool is definitely a reliable tool for successful writing. It literally spots grammar, spelling, and style issues, and definitively resolves them for you. Furthermore, perhaps the synonym function will provide you with better expressions that you maybe wouldn't have thought of.

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