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Are obvious and evident totally synonymous? I've noticed that both are generally translated to the same French word. However, as a native English speaker I kinda interpret them differently; obvious indicates that something should be known to people already because it is common knowledge, or because it doesn't require complex thought to determine, whereas evident suggests that something is obvious because there is a lot of evidence showing its truth. Do others make this distinction or am I alone here? :-)

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I'd consider self-evident to be more of a synonym for obvious. –  Mark Thomas Oct 6 '11 at 12:18
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up vote 15 down vote accepted

I'm not a native speaker, but my interpretation is this:

  • obvious means that something is so easily visible that there is no arguing about it: you don't need to search for the reasons, they are in plain sight.
  • evident means that many things point to it. Those things might not be visible without searching, but once they are found, it's simple to come to the stated conclusion.

The presence of an elephant in a room is usually obvious.

The presence of a mouse in a room is evident, but you might be able to miss it if you don't look close enough.

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This is one of those cases where the difference between two words is mostly one of degree. I'd say "obvious" is <more> than "evident". It's like the distinction between "big" and "huge", "unpleasant" and "disgusting", etc. –  Jay Oct 6 '11 at 21:52
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I think you are right

  • obvious indicates that "everyone should know it is true"
  • evident indicates that "it can be shown to be true"
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I believe obvious is synonym of self-evident.

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Colloquially speaking, you are correct, Jez. There is a distinction, with obvious describing something that is not just evident, but readily understood to be so.

If you ask me, evident is the more descriptive word, as it objectively characterizes an event or set of circumstances. Obvious, on the other hand, says more about the person who uses the word than the circumstances that he or she is trying to describe.

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