I've used "beknownst" and "unbeknownst" a couple times but I never really bothered to look it up until now. But it's not in most of the online dictionaries websites I frequent. I'm under the impression that this word is old school; if so, is it still appropriate to use? Or am I better off using some other word that means the same thing?

  • Unbeknownst is a beautiful word.
    – user21318
    May 18, 2012 at 17:21

4 Answers 4


Technically there is no such word as 'beknownst' other than as a back-formation of 'unbeknownst' (unbeknown exists and in fact pre-dates unbeknownst. Beknown also exists). It is rather old-fashioned which is probably why some online dictionaries don't list it.

They have essentially been superceded by 'known' and 'unknown', which have equivalent meanings. Nevertheless it is not uncommon to hear:

Unbeknownst to me, my wife had already bought the same present.

Or the like. It is perfectly appropriate to use.

  • 4
    Of course there is such a word 'beknownst' - and has been for centuries, even if it's now archaic. A few people today may imagine they're "re-coining" it by back-formation from the other archaic word they're more familiar with, but your assertion that somehow "technically" there is no such word is just plain wrong. Feb 8, 2012 at 6:35
  • Superseded, not superceded.
    – Fixee
    Jul 25, 2012 at 6:49
  • 1
    @Fixee 'usage: The standard spelling is supersede rather than supercede. The word is derived from the Latin verb supersedere but has been influenced by the presence of other words in English spelled with a c, such as intercede and accede. The c spelling is recorded as early as the 16th century; although still generally regarded as incorrect, it is now entered without comment in some modern dictionaries.' TIL, thanks!
    – Sam
    Jun 3, 2014 at 16:18
  • 1
    Good description and example and I agree perfectly appropriate word to use. But downvoting as I agree with @FumbleFingers that asserting that there is technically no such word as "beknownst" is just plain wrong. Reference would be helpful when you're making absolute statements such as that. kiamlaluno's answer should be the accepted one.
    – DeVil
    Apr 30, 2019 at 21:48

beknownst is an archaic word, as it is beknown; the meaning of beknown is known.

The word that is used in Modern English is unbeknown (or unbeknownst), which has its origin from beknown.

unbeknown |ˌənbəˈnoʊn| (also unbeknownst)
adjective [ predic. ] (unbeknown to)
without the knowledge of someone: unbeknown to me, she made some inquiries.

ORIGIN middle 17th century: from un- (not) + archaic beknown (known).


Unbeknownst is strictly an adverb may not be benoted as much as unknown since unknown is a noun and an adjective.

However, it is hardly "archaic" ... I eathly found samples of being in magazines and books in the last decade.

The beverage industry has long supported groups such as Keep America Beautiful (the group famously known for its " crying Indian " ads) that emphasize individual responsibility for Utter collection but which, unbeknownst to most consumers, work behind the scenes to oppose and defeat bottle recycling bills. … E: The Environmental Magazine, 2011

And it is benoted much more than unbeknown: Ngram (Sorry, I couldn't get it to load here.)

  • Why do you say it is strictly an adverb? Many dictionaries list it as an adjective; for example: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unbeknownst, thefreedictionary.com/unbeknownst
    – herisson
    Mar 31, 2016 at 19:41
  • @herisson: it's possible that "unbeknownst" can function in an adjectival phrase but not get used as a simple adjective (e.g. "an unbeknownst person"). MW's example doesn't use it simply, and doing so feels odd to me (again, "an unbeknownst person"). That might be why AnWulf stated it's strictly an adverb.
    – outis
    Dec 8, 2021 at 1:22

'Beknownst', not archaic at all. Abbreviated from, 'as be known to me'. To simply use known in its stead would cause the confusion as to 'known to whom?'. To imply that it should be understood that one would be referring to oneself is vulgarity.

  • 1
    This was, by far, the most accurate and knowledgeable of the answers listed. Beknownst is a much more accurate way of describing Yourself as Centre, but not necessarily in 3rd Person.
    – user107936
    Jan 29, 2015 at 20:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.