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What is the difference between a hypothesis and a theory?

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brettd eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A hypothesis is a proposed explanation, an educated guess as to why something observable happens.  It is untested by definition, and therefore highly subject to revision or dismissal.  For example, I might notice a pair of nesting owls outside my cabin window, and they are there every day until one of them dies.  My hypothesis might be that owls mate for life.  This is not an unreasonable guess on my part, based on observation, but it has not been proven one way or the other yet.

A theory, on the other hand, involves something that has been tested repeatedly over time, so that the observable results are generally agreed upon by the research community.  A theory is different than scientific fact, however, as a theory is still open to change as more and more research is accumulated.  A hypothesis, then, is an unproven theory.

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aaana | Student

Hypothesis is an untested explanation which needs experimental verification because it may be true or false....and when a hypothesis is tested and verified by certain experiments then it becomes a certainly based upon facts...For example "Plasmodium is the cause of malaria" was a hypothesis until it was not proved...when certain experiments were carried out regarding this matter, it was proved that plasmodium is the cause of malria so it became a theory ...


harville09 | Student

The difference between a theory and a hypothesis lies in the FACT, that a THEORY is tested an has a set of facts that scientifically prove its true.  While a HYPOTHESIS is still to be proven.  For example when a student undertakes a Science Fair project he/she begins with a stated hypothesis, "If this than that.." thus proving by a set of controlled experiments that their hypothesis was correct. The result is a proven theory based on fact.


Posted by harville12 on November 23, 2011, at 3:44 A.M.

meganmjh | Student

A hypothesis is the possible result of an experiment, it is a proposition, and therefore is not based on evidence, merely one's own judgement.

A theory is based on substantial evidence that was able to be drawn out of an experiment that took place or from other valuable sources.