This is the context:

Once there is a limitation (from a self-referential paradox or in any other way), it is not hard to find other limitations by looking at reductions. One limitation can piggyback on another. In fact, a careful reading of chapter 6 and of section 9.3 will demonstrate that only one problem was shown to be computationally unsolvable: the Halting Problem. All the other problems were simply shown to be reductions of the Halting Problem. From a single limitation, one can go on to build an entire edifice of limitations. We wonder if perhaps every type of limitation somehow comes from some form of self-referential limitation or a reduction from such a limitation.

Source: The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us

What is the meaning of "wonder if perhaps" in this context? I have trouble understanding this, because "if" and "perhaps" is in the sentence consecutively.

My take of it: "We are curious to know whether it is possible that the origins of every type of limitation are some form of self-referential limitation or a reduction from such a limitation."

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    It's just a "toned down, hedged" alternative to We think. To my mind, with no particular implications for how strongly we hold this belief - it's just standard practice in such contexts to advance opinions tentatively. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 17:23
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica So we can exchange "we wonder if perhaps" with "we think" or "to me". Is that correct? Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 17:55
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    Actually, it's highly unlikely your relatively "upmarket, hi-falutin" writers here would ever actually use the words we think in such a context. But I'm not trying to teach you how to actually write in this relatively dense / obscure / academic style. It's bad enough when competent native speakers write like this, but trying to do it convincingly in a foreign language would be a hopeless task for most learners. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 18:08

1 Answer 1


Sentences like this use toned down or hedged language (as @FumbleFingers identified) to deliberately avoid any impression that the person using it is certain of their conclusion. “We wonder if perhaps... somehow...” essentially means “We think...” but repeats words used to express uncertainty to emphasize the author’s tentative stance. This is used in academic literature but is also common in polite deferential conversation.

The very deliberate avoidance of certainty as an idea is put forward is characteristic of scientific literature. The scientific method involves carefully presenting an hypothesis for discussion, rather than pushing forward an opinion, as we usually do in conversation. As a learner of English reading technical material like the quoted text you may indeed have a need to understand this style and eventually write in it yourself.

Another place learners will see this is in very polite English where the speaker is expressing respect for the person spoken to, or asking them for a favor. For example,

“Sorry to bother you. The power is off in my apartment. I wonder if perhaps I might come in to use your microwave oven to heat this up?”

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