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Is 'honest' a suitable synonym for 'sincere'?

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How about an example? –  z7sg Ѫ May 4 '11 at 9:49
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For the record, I downvoted this because I am getting a little tired of these questions. The accepted and top-voted answer more or less shows the definitions of the two words and points out that they are different. As in, you should be able to figure this out from a dictionary. –  MrHen May 4 '11 at 14:48
    
@MrHen - I agree, but in situations where the asker gives no context (like this). Perhaps those who have rep should start voting to close these as "general reference"? –  Neil Fein May 4 '11 at 15:21
    
@Neil: "General reference" is still relatively new and this seems to be pushing its boundaries. I feel comfortable voting down but would want to have a chat before voting to close. If I saw a few others voting I would probably join in. –  MrHen May 4 '11 at 15:26

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

These are NOAD's versions of the terms:

sincere |sinˈsi(ə)r| adjective ( -cerer , -cerest ) free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings : they offer their sincere thanks to Paul. • (of a person) saying what they genuinely feel or believe; not dishonest or hypocritical.

honest |ˈänist| adjective free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere : I haven't been totally honest with you. • morally correct or virtuous : I did the only right and honest thing. • [ attrib. ] fairly earned, esp. through hard work : struggling to make an honest living. • (of an action) blameless or well intentioned even if unsuccessful or misguided : he'd made an honest mistake. • [ attrib. ] simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated : good honest food with no gimmicks.

As you see, the meanings of the two words intersect, but there are real points of difference in some of the senses. There are cases where you would not substitute one for the other. Sincere is hardly going to be understood to mean "simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated" for example. And honest has more to do with veracity than feelings.

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uhm @Robusto, I was going to write the same things, more or less. I thought nobody really hit the point, but since you kind of said what I wanted to say, you did. +1 from me. I wanna add that for this reason they can't be considered absolute synonyms (for those who don't know, this is actual terminology). –  Alenanno May 4 '11 at 9:58

There are a number of shades of difference in the meaning. I'll just mention one that nobody has touched on so far: If you describe somebody as an honest man, this implies he is generally honest. If you describe somebody as being sincere, you are generally talking about a single instance of honesty.

For example,

He told me that he would give me the money if he found it. I thought he was sincere.

You shouldn't say honest here, because it's only a single instance of honesty. If you want to use the word honest, you should say:

He told me that he would give me the money if he found it. I thought he was being honest.

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Depends on the context.

I didn't eat the chocolate! Honest!

"Sincere" would not be a synonym in this construct.

Tell me your honest opinion about my novel manuscript.

"Sincere" may work here, but "honest" sounds better.

His honest contributions have brought the party to a leading position.

"Sincere" will work here, but it still sounds different from "honest".

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'Sounds better' is not definitive, TBH. –  Grant Thomas May 4 '11 at 9:11
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Precisely, so to rephrase: 'Sounds better' is rather subjective. –  Grant Thomas May 4 '11 at 9:44
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For me at least, these examples don't really show where the overlap and differences in meaning are. –  z7sg Ѫ May 4 '11 at 9:49
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While my home contains more reference works in print than most, and while I'm certainly in favor of authoritative citations when possible, I do not discount the quality of the native speaker's ear. Sometimes, the characteristic of "it sounds right" is the only answer to the some of the questions posed here. Of course, we can be somewhat more technical and observe that a given construction is "idiomatic," but that's really just the same thing. –  The Raven May 4 '11 at 10:45
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@upthecreek: have you ever listened to the language that is actively used by teenagers? The prescriptive position would be to use "honestly", whereas the descriptive position definitely states that the current use is "like, I mean, he was like, duhh? And then I was like, Really? I didn't do it! Honest!" No teenager in their right mind would use "honestLY" in that context. This is an observation of currently used language, not a descriptive definition of how to use language correctly. Language evolves constantly. Even if we old dogs don't like where its being taken by the youngsters. –  teylyn May 4 '11 at 10:47

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