I know there's been an earlier question What is the meaning and usage of the word “beknownst”?. But nothing there satisfies my curiosity about that extra -st at the end.

I might have supposed the "extended" version to be dated / formal / literary, but I just heard it on the UK Channel 4 news. C4 newsreaders are normally far more relaxed about diction than those on other major channels (with glottal stops and dropped aitches aplenty).

So, what's the situation as regards actual usage? Is there a UK/US difference? And how does that extra -st come about in the first place? It doesn't seem connected to the archaic the second-person singular (as in Macbeth's "Thou com’st to use thy tongue; thy story quickly.").

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    I'd suppose that there are three types who use the word: (a) those who think it's part & parcel of the class of words that includes whilst, (b) those who think it's a better phonic fit for the sentence than is the form without an initial "be", & (c) the pompous & pretentious, who think it'll impress their audience because it's rather rare. "Unbeknownst to me" seems to me more melodious than "Unbeknown/Unknown to me". I'd not use it for, eg, "He/She/It was unbeknownst/unbeknown to me-", but I would use it for "_X was happening, unbeknownst to me". I prefer the unbeknownst version.
    – user21497
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 23:33
  • @Bill: Does that imply you think the -st form is adverbial, and the shorter version is adjectival? Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 23:35
  • It's a matter of sound for me, not grammar. Like tchrist, I'm unfamiliar with unbeknown; I don't like the sound of it. It also implies a lack of awareness rather a lack of acquaintance: facts/conditions unbeknownst to me (but I'm aware that such facts/conditions are sometimes possible) vs. persons unknown to me (I've neither met nor heard of them & didn't know that they existed). I think unbeknownst is an ADJ, as does M-W, but Cambridge disagrees.
    – user21497
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


The OED says they don’t know where the -st came from.

unbeˈknownst, a. or adv. Orig. colloq. and dial. Also unbeknowns, etc.

Etymology: f. prec. The analogy on which the -s or -st has been added is not clear: cf. the earlier unknownst.

= unbeknown (def#2). Also, = unbeknown ppl. a. (def#1). Now of much wider currency than in the 19th. cent.

I emboldened the last sentence because I have only ever heard unbeknownst myself, never this unbeknown thing. Citations for unbeknownst go back only to the 19th century, but for unbeknown to the 17th.

Here are the first few for unbeknownst:

  • 1848 Mrs. Gaskell Let. 11 Nov. (1966) 61 — You don’t see me, but I often am sitting in the rocking-chair unbeknownst to you.
  • 1854 Huxley in L. Huxley Life & Lett. (1910) I. 111, — I hate doing anything of the kind ‘unbeknownst’ to people.

And here are the first two citations for the other one:

  • 1636 T. Goodwin Return of Prayers iv. 75 — To sympathize with another in praying for such a thing unbeknowne one to another.
  • 1836-7 Dickens Sk. Boz, Seven Dials, — If my ’usband had treated her with a drain..unbeknown to me, I’d tear her precious eyes out.
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    I usually say unbeknown myself - probably because the full version is a bit of a mouthful and I'm an exceptionally "lazy" speaker most of the time. I've never come across unknownst that I recall. Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 23:10
  • @FumbleFingers I’ve never heard unknownst either; it was apparently a UK dialectal variation of the 19th century.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 23:14
  • A writer just used 'unbeknown' in a financial story - I noted it immediately as I thought it should have been with the '-st'. I've only heard the word as 'unbeknownst' and I live here in the NYC-region. I'm sure they checked it before using it in a published story.
    – user85375
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 13:44

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