Nonetheless, Nevertheless, Notwithstanding Posted by Gary Locke on Mar 23, 2017 in English Grammar, English Language, English Vocabulary
Here they are again: Words which sound so much alike, have similar meanings, and everybody uses them. What, then, is the difference?
Let’s begin with the fact that nonetheless, nevertheless, and notwithstanding are all compound words. This means that you can break the word up into separate words. By doing so, you can find clues to the distinctions, however slight, between the three words.
Compare the words none the less with never the less. If used as a pronoun, none means not one, no one, or not any. Applied as an adverb, it means not at all. In either case, the word signifies a physical or metaphysical thing. Never is an adverb which negates time. Viewed this way, one can see a difference.
- “I kept losing money until I was left with none.”
- “I never believed that I would lose all my money.”
Now, take it a step further and add to the sentences above.
- “I kept losing money until I was left with none. The excitement was worth it, nonetheless.”
- “I never believed that I would lose all my money. Nevertheless, I continued to play.”
While they are both adverbs, meaning that they are modifiers, when properly applied, nevertheless should be used when referring to an event or situation which either has, is, or may occur. Nonetheless should be applied to something which is measurably quantifiable.
Note, also, the structure of the example sentences. Nevertheless is used more frequently in the active voice, when the subject of the sentence acts upon the verb. You are more likely to see nonetheless as an example of the passive voice, where the subject is receiver of the action.
In common usage, the two words are effectively interchangeable. As with all words, once a meaning becomes universally accepted, there is no going back. At least one dictionary defines nonetheless as meaning nevertheless, adding that the only difference is that nonetheless is the more formal usage of the two. Linguistic historians will also note that nevertheless appeared in English usage (around 1350), much earlier than nonetheless, about two centuries later.
In contrast, notwithstanding is a compound preposition, formed by prefixing a preposition with a noun, adverb, or adjective. You’ll often see it as part of a prepositional phrase. It is commonly interchangeable with the word despite, or the phrase, “in spite of…”.
- “Notwithstanding the extreme cold, I left the house wearing shorts.”
Like the other two, notwithstanding is likely to be used in more formal discourse. You’ll often find it in legal settings.
Notwithstanding the similarities among the three words, you’ll probably nevertheless use one more frequently than the other, which is nonetheless more formal.
Art by Molly Dowd Sullivan
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