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I am never quite sure whether to use nevertheless or nonetheless; they seem almost synonymous to me, but I think I might be missing a subtle distinction. Is there a difference, and if so, how do I determine which is right in different circumstances?

I am specifically thinking of sentences like this:

  • I am busy Saturday, nevertheless I will come to your party anyway.
  • I am busy Saturday, nonetheless I will come to your party anyway.

There is a question here that deals with a specific idiomatic usage, but I was thinking of the general type of usage, as given in the party example above.

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I always thought of "Nevertheless" as being a way of saying that not only is whatever-it-is not lessened now, but that it will at no point ever be lessened, no matter what might come to pass. How far am I off my rocker? –  user867 Jul 31 '13 at 4:16
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5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The regular MW dictionary entry for nonetheless actually just says "nevertheless," and I'm not personally familiar with a situation when you could justifiably use one but not the other.

According to merriam-webster.com's Learner's Dictionary, they have the same definition as well:

in spite of what has just been said

…although nonetheless is marked as somewhat formal, while nevertheless is not.

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The difference is a subtle one, and the two can frequently (typically?) be used interchangeably. But what difference there is between these two compound words is rooted in the single components that make them different: never, and none.

"Never" is concerned with time, and so is more directly applicable in connection with an event or something that can happen: "It's cold today, but I am going out nevertheless." There's been no change in the likelihood of a given thing happening.

"None" is concerned with quantity, and so is more directly applicable in connection with a measurable quality, attribute, condition, degree, etc: "It's not as cold today, but it is cold nonetheless." There's been a change, but the change is being discounted, and so the given situation or condition remains the same.

Even in those examples, the two can be reasonably swapped. But, in imagining a context where those two sentences might be used, there's a shift in tone or emphasis related to an intention to go out; or an assessment of how much intention there is to do something (go out) that is not given in the sentence itself, but that in context is or will be understood -- nonetheless, or nevertheless, or despite that, or without consideration of that.

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Semantically, as others have said, there is no real difference between nonetheless and nevertheless.

There is a difference (or at least a tendency towards a difference) in syntax, though: their locations tend to differ when used as phrasal adverbs.

Nevertheless is usually placed before the clause it comments on, while nonetheless tends to feel slightly more awkward in this position (though by no means impossible).

I will defer to your judgment. Nevertheless, I still think we ought to tell her.
I will defer to your judgment. *Nonetheless, I still think we ought to tell her.

Conversely, nonetheless when used as a phrasal adverb is most commonly placed after the clause it refers to, where nevertheless can feel downright stilted:

I will defer to your judgment, but I still think we ought to tell her nonetheless.
I will defer to your judgment, but I still think we ought to tell her *nevertheless.

Neither of these two is more than a somewhat vague tendency, however. Exceptions are plenty and quite common; these tendencies make for a good rule of thumb, though.

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I think in analyzing the two words nonetheless and nevertheless, we should separate the different parts and ask what the meanings of never and none are.

  • None means “nothing” or “the absence of”.
  • Never means “impossible”.

So I ask you, is the distinction between never and none clear?

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Nonetheless is used when talking about an amount of something.

He really botched it tonight. I love him nonetheless.

Here we are saying that the amount I love him has not been diminished from the level I loved him prior to his having botched it.

Nevertheless should be used when talking about doing something despite the facts.

It could be dangerous. Nevertheless, I've got to try.

Here we are saying that I will try despite the fact that it could be dangerous.

Note though that quite often interchanging the words results in a sentence with a different nuance of meaning but the same overall outcome.

Switching to nevertheless in my first example changes the meaning from I don't love him any less to I love him despite the facts - very similar but not quite the same.

And this is why interchanging them works so often. Because usually when saying that the amount that I do something has not diminished in any way it is because something has occurred that had the possibility of diminishing it and in not diminishing the amount I have essentially done that despite the facts.

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I don't find the slightest hint of the distinction you are making, in my understanding of the sentences. Perhaps it's a dialect thing. –  Colin Fine Jun 22 '12 at 10:04
    
I kind of see where you are coming from here. You are proposing that "I love him nonetheless" means essentially "The amount less that I love him is none." (Now there is an ugly sentence.) I'm not convinced, though. Can you expand a little? –  Fraser Orr Jun 22 '12 at 14:03
    
@ColinFine: Here is an example where I think the meaning is clear: "Julius II loved him nonetheless for it..." means Julius didn't love him any less because of it. –  Jim Jun 22 '12 at 15:13
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@Jim. Ah. I see the problem. That is not the word nonetheless: it is the phrase none the less. To see the difference, consider Julius did not love him any the less. There is no word anytheless. –  Colin Fine Jun 25 '12 at 23:34
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To put Jim's point slightly differently, nonetheless means 'not the slightest bit less' while nevertheless means 'despite that'. –  H Stephen Straight Feb 11 at 21:06
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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 30 '13 at 17:10

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