Blog post

Does たぶん mean “probably” or “maybe”?

Miki - Teacher

If you look up 「たぶん」, you might see “probably” and “maybe” on a dictionary. Also, if you ask Japanese native speakers about the translation for「たぶん」, some people say it’s “probably” but some says “maybe”.

It must be pretty confusing for you.

“probably” and “maybe” indicate different possibilities in English so you might feel unsure which one to use to express your thoughts accurately.

Let’s have a look at some examples.

If you write
あしたは たぶん あめです。:It will probably/maybe rain tomorrow.

We can't tell if it means "probably" or "maybe" just from reading.

However, when you say that out loud, you could say たぶん slowly.

In this case, たぶん sounds less confident so たぶん expresses more "maybe" feeling rather than “probably”.

Then, how do we describe or understand when it’s written? Also, if you don’t have confidence in how to say “たぶん” differently.

You could use たぶん with some other expressions.

For example,

  1. たぶん あめ かもしれません。
    かもしれません indicates "maybe (about 50% possibility)".

  2. たぶん あめ でしょう。
    でしょう indicates the higher possibility compare to かもしれません。

  3. たぶん あめだ とおもうけど、わからない。
    If you add わからない, you can express your "unsure" feeling which means たぶん no longer expresses "probably".

Here is a conclusion.

Japanese people have different definition of たぶん which is either “probably” or “maybe”. Also, Japanese people often express/understand the possibility of “たぶん” from context, tone and sometimes even from non-verbal communication. So, it would be handy if you could use たぶん with other expressions.