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  1. Newbie
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    #1

    Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    I am confused about the definition of the word "generally". It is often defined to mean "in most cases" or "usually; as a rule", but these don't seem like interchangeable definitions. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that "usually" or "as a rule" means "in a way that is ordinary or habitual"; "usually" and "as a rule" don't imply an objective minimum percentage of the time but it is reasonable to say that if something happens at least 75% - 90% of time, it can be said that "it usually happens" or "as a rule it happens". "In most cases", however, implies a finite objective minimum percentage of above 50% and is interchangeable with "in the majority of instances". What I am confused about is which one of these words or phrases is interchangeable with the word "generally" in different contexts:

    Example 1: X generally does well on his/her math tests.
    Does this merely mean that:
    A: X does well on the majority of his/her math tests. (E.g. X does well on 55% of his/her math tests)
    OR
    B: X usually does well on his/her math tests./As a rule, X does well on his/her math tests. (E.g. X does well on 90% of his/her math tests) ?
    (I think it's B but correct me if I'm wrong)

    Example 2: Blorgons are generally nice creatures.
    Does this merely mean that:
    A: The majority of Blorgons are nice creatures. (E.g. 55% of Blorgons are nice creatures)
    OR
    B: Blorgons are typically nice creatures./As a rule, Blorgons are nice creatures. (E.g. 90% of Blorgons are nice creatures) ?
    (Not sure about this one)

    Thank you!

  2. probus's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    In both examples, all of your statements are interchangeable. I'm afraid English is not as precise a tool as one might wish it to be. "Generally" is commonly used as a synonym for "usually". Any statement more specific than that depends on context.

  3. Newbie
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    #3

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    I see.

    So the word "generally" can be used to mean "usually" OR "over half of the time" even within the same context simply because it is used so loosely?
    (so for example in example A, one person may be implying that X does well in over half of his/her tests whereas someone else may be implying that X usually does well in his/her tests even if they are making that exact same statement?)

  4. Raymott's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    I disagree that 'generally' means '55% of the time'.
    If you say that X generally/usually passes his exams, and he only passes 55% of them, you are being deceitful, in my opinion.

  5. probus's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    "I disagree that 'generally' means '55% of the time'."

    Me too.

    What I was trying to say is that "generally" and "usually" are usually synonymous. The OP's failure to understand this obvious point leaves me in grave doubt that he is the native speaker he claims to be.
    Last edited by probus; 19-Dec-2014 at 06:16.

  6. Newbie
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    #6

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    Yeah probus, I wouldn't blame you for doubting that. I am a native English speaker (believe it or not) but I am also pretty stupid.

    Anyway, just to confirm, "generally" can mean any percentage greater than 50% or "usually (let's say over 75% of the time)", but in certain contexts (such as in example A) one can infer that it means the latter judging by the context and by assuming that the person making the statement does not want to mislead you or "be deceitful"?

  7. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    As you have been told, "generally" does not mean any percentage greater than 50%.

  8. Newbie
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    #8

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    That's what I initially thought, MikeNewYork, but people on other forums beg to differ. I repeatedly get people answering me saying that "generally" just implies any percentage above 50%. At the same time, however, I see people repeatedly claim that "generally" is interchangeable with the word "usually", which would imply that the word "generally" doesn't simply imply any percentage above 50%, as you mentioned. So amid this myriad of contradicting definitions of the word "generally" that I have encountered, I decided to adopt the notion that the word "generally" can imply:

    A: Just any percentage above 50% (E.g. Old, white American generally vote Republicans).
    OR
    B: A percentage high enough to render the word "generally" interchangeable with the word "usually"(let's say 75% or above) (E.g. I generally do well on my math tests).

    This seems to be the notion that probus supports; he did say that "generally" is commonly or even usually used as a synonym for "usually". This notion, however, gives the word "generally" a very ridiculous ambiguity and at times makes it difficult to understand what people are trying to communicate when using the word "generally". Nevertheless, a word is defined effectively by how it is commonly used, not by how it should be used. Therefore, I can think of no better definition (or rather no better set of definitions) for the word "generally" than this.

  9. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    I understand your confusion, but there is no way that "generally" means 51-55%. You have to choose whom you want to believe.

  10. Newbie
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    #10

    Re: Definition(s) of the word "generally"

    OK, I understand that. Clearly, if a percentage were in that tiny range then it would definitely be misleading to use the word "generally" to describe it. However, do you concur that the word "generally" has the two definitions that I mentioned (aside from the other definitions of the word which we are not talking about) or would you say that it always implies any percentage above 55% (and perhaps less than 99%)?

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