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Definition of hypothesis

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The Difference Between Hypothesis and Theory

A hypothesis is an assumption, an idea that is proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to see if it might be true.

In the scientific method, the hypothesis is constructed before any applicable research has been done, apart from a basic background review. You ask a question, read up on what has been studied before, and then form a hypothesis.

A hypothesis is usually tentative; it's an assumption or suggestion made strictly for the objective of being tested.

A theory , in contrast, is a principle that has been formed as an attempt to explain things that have already been substantiated by data. It is used in the names of a number of principles accepted in the scientific community, such as the Big Bang Theory . Because of the rigors of experimentation and control, it is understood to be more likely to be true than a hypothesis is.

In non-scientific use, however, hypothesis and theory are often used interchangeably to mean simply an idea, speculation, or hunch, with theory being the more common choice.

Since this casual use does away with the distinctions upheld by the scientific community, hypothesis and theory are prone to being wrongly interpreted even when they are encountered in scientific contexts—or at least, contexts that allude to scientific study without making the critical distinction that scientists employ when weighing hypotheses and theories.

The most common occurrence is when theory is interpreted—and sometimes even gleefully seized upon—to mean something having less truth value than other scientific principles. (The word law applies to principles so firmly established that they are almost never questioned, such as the law of gravity.)

This mistake is one of projection: since we use theory in general to mean something lightly speculated, then it's implied that scientists must be talking about the same level of uncertainty when they use theory to refer to their well-tested and reasoned principles.

The distinction has come to the forefront particularly on occasions when the content of science curricula in schools has been challenged—notably, when a school board in Georgia put stickers on textbooks stating that evolution was "a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things." As Kenneth R. Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, has said , a theory "doesn’t mean a hunch or a guess. A theory is a system of explanations that ties together a whole bunch of facts. It not only explains those facts, but predicts what you ought to find from other observations and experiments.”

While theories are never completely infallible, they form the basis of scientific reasoning because, as Miller said "to the best of our ability, we’ve tested them, and they’ve held up."

  • proposition
  • supposition

hypothesis , theory , law mean a formula derived by inference from scientific data that explains a principle operating in nature.

hypothesis implies insufficient evidence to provide more than a tentative explanation.

theory implies a greater range of evidence and greater likelihood of truth.

law implies a statement of order and relation in nature that has been found to be invariable under the same conditions.

Examples of hypothesis in a Sentence

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hypothesis.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Greek, from hypotithenai to put under, suppose, from hypo- + tithenai to put — more at do

1641, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Phrases Containing hypothesis

  • nebular hypothesis
  • planetesimal hypothesis
  • null hypothesis
  • Whorfian hypothesis
  • counter - hypothesis

Articles Related to hypothesis


This is the Difference Between a...

This is the Difference Between a Hypothesis and a Theory

In scientific reasoning, they're two completely different things

Dictionary Entries Near hypothesis



Cite this Entry

“Hypothesis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hypothesis. Accessed 3 Jan. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of hypothesis, medical definition, medical definition of hypothesis, more from merriam-webster on hypothesis.

Nglish: Translation of hypothesis for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of hypothesis for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about hypothesis

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Meaning of hypothesis in English

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  • abstraction
  • afterthought
  • anthropocentrism
  • anti-Darwinian
  • exceptionalism
  • foundation stone
  • great minds think alike idiom
  • non-dogmatic
  • non-empirical
  • non-material
  • non-practical
  • supersensible
  • the domino theory

hypothesis | American Dictionary

Hypothesis | business english, examples of hypothesis, translations of hypothesis.

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what does a hypothesis mean

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a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either asserted merely as a provisional conjecture to guide investigation ( working hypothesis ) or accepted as highly probable in the light of established facts.

a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument.

the antecedent of a conditional proposition.

a mere assumption or guess.

Origin of hypothesis

Synonym study for hypothesis, other words from hypothesis.

  • hy·poth·e·sist, noun
  • coun·ter·hy·poth·e·sis, noun, plural coun·ter·hy·poth·e·ses.
  • sub·hy·poth·e·sis, noun, plural sub·hy·poth·e·ses.

Words that may be confused with hypothesis

  • 1. hypothesis , law , theory (see synonym study at theory )
  • 2. deduction , extrapolation , induction , generalization , hypothesis

Words Nearby hypothesis

  • hypothecium
  • hypothenuse
  • hypothermal
  • hypothermia
  • hypothesis testing
  • hypothesize
  • hypothetical
  • hypothetical imperative
  • hypothetically

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use hypothesis in a sentence

Each one is a set of questions we’re fascinated by and hypotheses we’re testing.

Mousa’s research hinges on the “contact hypothesis ,” the idea that positive interactions among rival group members can reduce prejudices.

Do more research on it, come up with a hypothesis as to why it underperforms, and try to improve it.

Now is the time to test your hypotheses to figure out what’s changing in your customers’ worlds, and address these topics directly.

Whether computing power alone is enough to fuel continued machine learning breakthroughs is a source of debate, but it seems clear we’ll be able to test the hypothesis .

Though researchers have struggled to understand exactly what contributes to this gender difference, Dr. Rohan has one hypothesis .

The leading hypothesis for the ultimate source of the Ebola virus, and where it retreats in between outbreaks, lies in bats.

In 1996, John Paul II called the Big Bang theory “more than a hypothesis .”

To be clear: There have been no double-blind or controlled studies that conclusively confirm this hair-loss hypothesis .

The bacteria-driven-ritual hypothesis ignores the huge diversity of reasons that could push someone to perform a religious ritual.

And remember it is by our hypothesis the best possible form and arrangement of that lesson.

Taken in connection with what we know of the nebulæ, the proof of Laplace's nebular hypothesis may fairly be regarded as complete.

What has become of the letter from M. de St. Mars, said to have been discovered some years ago, confirming this last hypothesis ?

To admit that there had really been any communication between the dead man and the living one is also an hypothesis .

"I consider it highly probable," asserted Aunt Maria, forgetting her Scandinavian hypothesis .

British Dictionary definitions for hypothesis

/ ( haɪˈpɒθɪsɪs ) /

a suggested explanation for a group of facts or phenomena, either accepted as a basis for further verification ( working hypothesis ) or accepted as likely to be true : Compare theory (def. 5)

an assumption used in an argument without its being endorsed; a supposition

an unproved theory; a conjecture

Derived forms of hypothesis

  • hypothesist , noun

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for hypothesis

[ hī-pŏth ′ ĭ-sĭs ]

A statement that explains or makes generalizations about a set of facts or principles, usually forming a basis for possible experiments to confirm its viability.

usage For hypothesis

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for hypothesis

[ (heye- poth -uh-sis) ]

plur. hypotheses (heye- poth -uh-seez)

In science, a statement of a possible explanation for some natural phenomenon. A hypothesis is tested by drawing conclusions from it; if observation and experimentation show a conclusion to be false, the hypothesis must be false. ( See scientific method and theory .)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


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  1. Hypothesis Definition & Meaning

    A hypothesis is an assumption, an idea that is proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to see if it might be true. It is usually tentative and based on scientific method. A theory is a principle that has been formed as an attempt to explain things that have already been substantiated by data.

  2. Hypothesis

    In science, a hypothesis is an idea or explanation that you then test through study and experimentation. Outside science, a theory or guess can also be called a hypothesis. A hypothesis is something more than a wild guess but less than a well-established theory.


    A hypothesis is an idea or explanation for something that is based on known facts but has not yet been proved. See examples, pronunciation, translations and related words in different languages.

  4. Hypothesis

    A hypothesis ( pl.: hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories.

  5. HYPOTHESIS Definition & Usage Examples

    A hypothesis is a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either accepted as a basis for further verification or as highly probable in the light of established facts. See synonyms, origin, and usage examples of hypothesis.