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I would like to know some word choices (can be a noun, adjective,...) for not knowing about something,

  • with a positive connotation
  • with a negative connotation
  • in a neutral way

For example, I guess ignorant/ignorance is a negative word, is it? Can I use it to describe myself before asking others (especially experts) a question, to show that I am humble?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

You are right that ignorant/ignorance often carries a negative sense ("He's so ignorant!"), but it can also be used neutrally ("Ignorant of what had happened in my absence, I continued as before"). It can certainly be used to express humility ("Forgive my ignorance, but who is the current president of South Korea?").

For the neutral sense there is also unaware (and unawareness).

There are not many emphatically positive expressions for lack of knowledge, since this is usually considered a negative (though you might argue innocent has this sense; also ignorant and unaware are often combined with blissfully, after the proverb Ignorance is bliss). But there are expressions for situations where lack of knowledge is expected, and therefore perhaps less negative — for instance, novice, apprentice, learner, beginner, and if your aim is to express humility then any of these would be appropriate.

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  1. negative

    • I'm ignorant about ...
  2. neutral.

    • I am not familiar with ...
    • I am not [well] versed in ...
    • I am a beginner at ...
  3. positive.

    • I am willing to learn ...
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The first thing that comes to my mind is Emotional Intelligence.

  • In a positive way you could ask for support.
  • In a negative way you wouldn't ask but, show off with everything you already know.
  • In a neutral way you would ask for feedback or criticism.
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Thanks, especially for connection to EQ! I wonder why is showing what I have known negative? Isn't that good for my listener to find out what I think I know is actually misunderstanding, and address my questions more suitable to my level of knowledge? –  Tim May 30 '11 at 16:46

Uninformed is fairly neutral, as is unenlightened. Words like novice or freshman describe someone new to some role, and, by implication, not yet highly knowledgeable. I would say those are a bit more positive. No apology is needed for someone who is trying to learn. You can't know something before you know it, and asking questions is one way to gain knowledge and learn. Anyone who is expert in a subject had to first learn it and had to have started from a state of being less knowledgeable.

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What about naïve?

Lacking worldly experience, wisdom, or judgement; unsophisticated.

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Naive, pronounced as you spelt it, because English is a cruel language. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/naive –  Wayfaring Stranger Apr 23 at 2:49

Very absent-minded, not knowing what your surroundings are, other focuses, not concentrated.

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These phrases don't really fit Tim's requirements. –  American Luke Nov 4 '12 at 0:51

protected by tchrist Jul 11 at 3:25

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