The Meaning of ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ and How to Use it Professionally

The Meaning of ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ and How to Use it Professionally

Have you ever been at a business meeting where a colleague says something like, “Hypothetically speaking, if the pandemic continues for another 12 months, we won’t be able to meet our new orders,” and do you nod in agreement even though you’re not entirely sure what it means to ‘speak hypothetically’? Well, we’re here to end the misery. Here is the Meaning of ‘Hypothetically Speaking’.

To speak hypothetically means to base a statement on a hypothesis, or a proposed situation, for the sake of reasoning. In simpler terms, it’s like saying ‘what if’ and creating a scenario to support your idea. Does that mean that the situation you use has to be a plausible one? Not necessarily. Retaking the previous example, when your colleague hypothesizes that the pandemic will continue for another 12 months, they don’t know for sure that it will. Nobody does. So all they’re trying to do in that sentence is establish what will happen if the pandemic does continue for that long, not state that it will not be possible to fulfill those orders at all. Being able to use the phrase professionally and appropriately is an art. Let’s delve into it a little deeper.

Where can you use the phrase when speaking professionally?

  • ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ is generally used as a starting point in the deliberation and the evaluation of an idea. It draws from the term hypothesis, which means assumption, and involves conjecture. Thus, the purpose of using the phrase could best be described as a test – a test to identify whether an idea follows logically and empirically or not. In this sense, it can be used in the context of assessing the feasibility of an idea, its long-term success, and even the risks involved. 

  • The very first sentence we looked at depicts this. Another good example would be, “Hypothetically speaking, if our competition launches their new product line before we do, we need to be prepared to review our pricing structure.” So here, they are using ‘their competition launching its product line earlier’ as their assumption and are preparing themselves for the course of action to take if that happens.

  • ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ can also describe something that can theoretically occur or something likely to happen according to principle. This is most often heard in the context of brainstorming, working out the technicalities of an idea, and giving suggestions. However, it could also be used to describe the probable results of an event. For example, “Hypothetically speaking, when the Sun exhausts the hydrogen in its core, life on earth will no longer exist.”

  • ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ can also be used to either support or dismantle an argument, and it is not uncommon when disproving theories. For example, suppose a person claims that one can’t have more than five children at once. In that case, you could hypothesize that there may be instances of people having septuplets and even octuplets, thereby disproving their bold statement.

  • Finally, ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ can be used to generate examples for almost anything, just like all the hypothetical sentences, you’ll come across in this article.

A few things to remember when you use the phrase ‘Hypothetically Speaking.’

  • The two words can be switched around to say ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ or ‘Speaking Hypothetically.’
  • If you’re not using the two words together, make sure you change the word forms to fit the sentence. For example, one would say, “Let us consider a hypothetical situation,” thereby employing the adjective form ‘hypothetical’ in place of the adverb ‘hypothetically.’
  • Hypothetically speaking is not a sentence on its own, merely a phrase, and it cannot be used as a stand-alone.
  • Try to use it at the beginning of a sentence, although it can also be used at the end, depending on the context.
  • A hypothetical situation need not be a probable situation. It could also be something wild and unrealistic.
  • Don’t confuse ‘hypothetically speaking’ with ‘theoretically speaking,’ even though you might hear that frequently. A theoretical idea is something that has already been tried and tested. Therefore, it is based on existing knowledge. However, a hypothetical idea is a proposal that is purely suppositional.
  • Finally, when using a hypothetical situation in conversation, don’t be afraid to use detail! The phrase leaves room for any amount of detail, whether you want to assume a friend has a pet elephantTherefore, it or that they brought home a 2-year-old pink elephant on the 12th of December.

Do you need to say ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ if a sentence already has the word ‘If’?

This is a topic on which there is a constant debate among grammar-enthusiasts, as the internet will undoubtedly confirm. Technically, if a sentence is conditional or carries the word, the listener will understand that it is purely hypothetical even if that precise word isn’t mentioned. 

So then, why bother using the phrase? There are usually three reasons to use it. One, it’s used for critical or highly unrealistic situations to emphasize that fact. Two, it works as a disclaimer before describing an imaginary scenario that might be mistaken for an actual event. Three, it sounds fancy, and if you’re trying to impress someone, flaunting your turns of phrase will never hurt.

Some Alternatives To Using the Phrase We’ve Read So Many Times Now

Hypothetically speaking, if you were to use the phrase hypothetically speaking every day, you and the people around you would eventually tire of it. So what you need are some suitable old synonyms. So here’s a list!

  1. Using words related to ‘hypothesis in different ways’ – If you want to stick to the hypothesis-family of words, but not always have to say ‘Hypothetically Speaking,’ here are a few things you could say:
    • Let’s consider a hypothetical situation
    • Hypothetically, …
    • Let us hypothesize that …
    • Taking a hypothetical example …
  2. Other similar phrases – Some other phrases or idioms you could say what you need to are as follows. Remember, even if you have a simple conditional sentence with the word ‘if,’ it is automatically hypothetical, so you need not add a phrase that you think will be frivolous.
    • Let us suppose that …
    • Supposing …
    • Imagine for a second …
    • Let us pretend that …
    • Assuming/presuming that …
    • Let us consider an example in which …
    • Consider a scenario in which …
    • If…
  3. Individual words to replace ‘hypothetical/hypothetically’ – Don’t want to use a phrase? We’ve got it covered. Below is a table of synonyms you could use to express an imaginary situation. On the left are their adjective forms, and on the right their adverbs. For reference, use the left-hand column to replace ‘hypothetical’ and the right-hand column to replace ‘hypothetically’ in a sentence. Their meanings might not be similar in all contexts, so make sure to use a word appropriate for the specific situation.


Et voila! After reading through that quick guide, you’re now an expert at speaking hypothetically and can blow some people’s socks off at that next meeting. The only tricky part might be to get out of the realm of the unreal and come back to the mundanities of a world without pink elephants.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the difference between hypothetically and theoretically?
    Put, ‘theoretical’ refers to something better established in theory than ‘hypothetical,’ which is just an assumption. A theory is generally a proven statement, whereas a hypothesis is something of a guess. This pattern also follows in science, where hypotheses are formed before theories. However, in spoken English, you will find the two words used interchangeably. 

  2. What are hypothetical questions?
    As indicated by the name, a hypothetical question is based on an imaginary scenario or situation. It is usually posed to a person to gauge their personalities, preferences, styles, etc. A typical setting for questions like these would be an interview. The interviewer will first develop specific attributes they’re looking for based on the candidate’s answers and parameters for judging them. A classic example for such a question is, “What is the first thing you would do if you ruled the world?”

  3. Does hypothecate mean the same as hypothesizing?
    There are instances in which the verb ‘to hypothecate’ is used in place of ‘to hypothesize,’ but that’s a slightly archaic way of speaking. A more appropriate definition for hypothecating would be to pledge money for some stipulated purpose.

  4. What do you call the opposite of speaking hypothetically?
    The opposite of speaking hypothetically can be described as saying literally, realistically, or actually. These phrases are essentially used when referring to something less abstract and more easily perceivable, something that can’t be classified as a ‘guess.’ Other antonyms for hypothetical are sure, authentic, accurate, verifiable, certain, given, genuine, veritable, and confirmed.
The Meaning of ‘Hypothetically Speaking’ and How to Use it Professionally

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