Some words in English appear much more often than others, and “basically” is one of those very common words in English. “Basically” is a legitimate word and not slang, but we can use “basically” both formally and informally.
It is correct to say “basically,” and we can use “basically” to mean “essentially,” “simply,” or “in a basic manner.” We can use it as part of a larger sentence or as a mild interjection of affirmation. However, many use “basically” just before summarizing a complex idea or before clarifying something.
This article will discuss how to use “basically” properly and avoid incorrect usage. We will also learn how to choose substitutes for “basically” when another expression is more appropriate.
What Does “Basically” Mean?
“Basically” means “fundamentally” or “essentially” (source). The word primarily prepares listeners to receive a simplified explanation of a potentially complicated topic. We use “basically” to capture the core essence of something or its fundamental attributes.
However, sometimes, we use it as a verbal pause for something obviously complicated. A verbal pause is a word that people use to fill empty space in a conversation to gather their thoughts and think of the right way to express their ideas to others.
Try to avoid using “basically” before describing something overly complicated because there are many other words that you can use as a verbal pause. Sometimes “about” or “around” can be good choices for verbal pauses as well.
How Do You Use “Basically”?
“Basically” prepares the listener to cue in on the fact that the speaker is about to explain an idea or a belief. It can also help indicate that the speaker will simplify a complex concept for his audience (source).
Here are a few short examples of using “basically” to simplify a complex idea or at least something that someone else does not understand.
Q: Hey professor, why is Quantum Physics so complicated?
A: Basically, the matter studied in Quantum Physics changes its behavior depending on whether or not someone is watching it.
P1: The GPS said to “turn completely to the right,” but I have no idea what that means.
P2: That basically means that you are going to turn almost all the way around.
Sometimes, people also use “basically” to clarify an important detail in the conversation that their listener may have misunderstood. This usage is pretty similar to the last one. Most would say that they are basically the same!
Using “Basically” in a Full Sentence
It is important to note that “basically” is an adverb. Therefore, it can describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
In contrast, its root word, “basic,” is an adjective, and adjectives primarily describe nouns. Here are further examples of how to use “basically.”
The book’s fourth edition is basically the same as the third, with some added references and charts in the back.
NFTs are basically digital pieces of art that people create and sell. Sometimes, NFTs rise in value because they provide access to talk with artists or simply because of celebrity endorsements.
Agreeing with someone or confirming something:
P1: What are you talking about? Do they think that people will not shoot fireworks simply because they were told not to?
P2: Yeah, basically.
P1: You’ve been asked to work a lot of overtime this week, and I heard your boss just asked you to stay late again. I would be pretty angry if I were you.
P2: If he asks me to stay late next week, I’m basically going to walk out.
During a misunderstanding:
P1: So the coach thinks he can leave five players in for the whole game and not expect to tire them out? This is outrageous! There are over 10 players on the bench.
P2: I think he basically just wants to win. The coach probably feels like the players on the bench just aren’t as good.
P1: I don’t get it. Before, you said that you would create white if you combined all the colors. Now you’re confusing me.
P2: If you combine all the colors of light, the wavelengths will appear as white, but it’s basically the opposite when you combine paint colors. If you combine all the colors of paint, you get black.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Basically?
Using “basically” is, by and large, grammatically correct and easy to use. Still, certain circumstances exist where the word “basically” can obscure the speaker’s intentions.
The mistakes that most often occur when using “basically” are typically stylistic rather than grammatical. As long as the speaker understands that “basically” is an adverb and behaves like one, they will have no issues misusing “basically” in a grammatical sense.
When Can You Use “Basically”?
English speakers use the adverb “basically” very often and in many different circumstances. For instance, it is common to use “basically” when preparing for an explanation or clarification, but you can also use it as a verbal pause.
We use “basically” widely in formal and informal English. Informal English describes how one speaks to equals or subordinates in a non-professional manner. People typically only use colloquial English when addressing others with whom they are very familiar.
On the other hand, formal English describes how professionals speak to one another or how one speaks to others in formal settings. It is more cautious and polite, like when talking to a boss at work.
Be careful when using “basically” as an interjection! If you express yourself incorrectly, your audience may think you are disrespectful or too informal.
For example, if you were explaining something to your boss, you would want to use “basically” in a way that simplifies your message without making them feel slighted.
As a Verbal Pause
Here is a short example of using “basically” as a verbal pause.
Q: What do you think? Are you going to be able to travel much this year?
A: Basically… no. The company has not been able to find suitable replacements for the positions it laid off. So we have had to pick up extra work. Everyone’s schedule is too overbooked for me to travel much this year.
Observe how the speaker uses “basically” to gather their thoughts before providing a full explanation to the person that asked the question. It is sometimes helpful to think of this as a simplification because the speaker condenses all of their many ideas into a few short sentences.
Here is another acceptable example of using “basically” fully integrated into a sentence and not as a verbal pause.
P1: What do you think? Is the company calendar going to undergo another change?
P2: We have taken on too much work to cut anything else out of the schedule. We’re undermanned. Any further changes to the calendar are basically off the table.
In this example, P2 uses “basically” to summarize a set of ideas that P1 is not aware of. They spend a few sentences explaining a brief answer to their question and then summarize it using “basically.”
Now, if the explanation is too long and detailed, “basically” becomes a suboptimal choice compared to many other options — verbal pauses or otherwise. As we’ve demonstrated, your choice of words in English depends upon the context in which you find yourself.
In What Context Can You Use “Basically”?
It is most common to use “basically” in informal circumstances between peers, but many folks can also use “basically” for formal situations. There are just a few situations where you should exercise caution.
Informally, you can use “basically” to accomplish a short variety of different tasks — simplifying something complicated, agreeing with someone, clarifying something, or even as a means of softly agreeing with something said. Close friends also use it as a verbal pause.
You can use “basically” for formal circumstances as well, but there are certainly more elegant and discreet choices to use instead of “basically.” Since “basically” sees such wide use, it will be more useful to describe the instances where one should avoid its usage.
When Not to Use “Basically”?
Avoid using “basically” when what you are going to explain is quite complicated. “Basically” prepares the listener for a simple explanation, not a lecture. Also, avoid using “basically” in particularly formal circumstances and opt for better alternatives.
Suppose a speaker uses “basically” and follows with a lengthy explanation. In that case, they can come off as passive-aggressive or frustrated, like the listener should have already known why that question would produce such frustration.
If the speaker still wants to use “basically” before their explanation, they can dispel any potential misunderstandings by asking a question before using it.
Here is a short example.
P1: Hey! Make sure you get that task done before lunch!
P2: What are you talking about?
P1: Have you had a chance to check your email?
P2: No, I’m sorry about that.
P1: Oh. It’s no big deal. Basically, the team leader wants a list of who will RSVP for the company outing, so he elected you to create the spreadsheet.
Notice how the speaker uses a question to qualify the listener’s confusion before using “basically” to summarize the overlooked project. In this way, the speaker identifies his interest in where the miscommunication happened and shows that he does not intend to insult the listener.
If he had chosen to omit the question, he would have risked coming across as passive-aggressive. Here is an exaggerated example where the speaker may have been trying to sound genuine but appears annoyed instead.
Speaker: Hey! Make sure you get that task done before lunch!
Listener: What are you talking about?
Speaker: You should basically check your email.
Even if the speaker genuinely meant what they said, their use of “basically” could also mean “at a base level” or “simply,” implying that the listener was not doing their job.
The other circumstance where you should avoid using “basically” is in formal circumstances or with unfamiliar acquaintances. Again, plenty of alternatives will convey a willingness to be warm and cordial instead of “basically.”
Check out our article “Most Definitely: Meaning and Proper Usage” for an example of a common adverbial expression.
What Can You Use Instead of “Basically”?
There are many options to use instead of “basically” in English.
Some of the more classy alternatives to “basically” include:
- Fundamentally speaking
- At heart
- In a sense
- What counts is that
- In the important ways
Some alternative ways that speakers prepare their listeners for a more complicated explanation of something are as follows:
- If only it were that simple
- About that, it’s a little more complicated.
- Around that subject.
Notice how we can use all of these words just like “basically” but produce different effects based on the context of the conversation (source). We effectively communicate when we use direct and assertive language, whatever the case may be.
Adverbs of Degree, Manner, Frequency, Place, or Time
“Basically” serves as an adverb of manner or degree. It can describe how something happens, the level at which it happens, or its intensity. It does not describe when, with what frequency, or in what places something happens.
We use other words to describe situations in a temporal sense. For example, a manager could say that something is “basically a fundamental skill,” meaning everyone in the organization knows how to perform it, but it does not tell the time or place they did it. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
“Basically” is a fundamental word in the English lexicon, but it receives a fair bit of overuse. Try to avoid “basically” too often, especially when another word better fits your situation.
“Basically” is a word that is easy to overuse, and it sees widespread usage in various settings. For the most part, people use “basically” to summarize complicated or lengthy explanations or as a verbal pause, but it can stand alone as an affirmation.
Still, you must be careful of using filler words in your writing. For example, try to avoid using ‘basically” as an interrupter for academic writing.