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It seems these words all mean you didn't pay enough attention to something.

2 Answers 2

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Overlook is normally by accident

  • I was not paying attention, so I overlooked the mistake in my spelling.

A variation is you intentionally overlook something

  • You are clearly sorry you are late, so I will overlook it this once

Ignore is by intent
I saw the spelling mistake but chose to ignore it.

Neglect can be either accidental or intentionally, but implies deterioration of the neglected and that it is something you should have done.

  • I was supposed to use a spelling checker but neglected my duties
  • He was so busy on the computer all night, that he neglected his health and his family

Disregard (not asked by you) is stronger on intent than ignore.

  • Let the jury disregard the last statement
  • They showed blatant disregard for the law

Idiomatically, you can be told or asked to overlook, ignore or disregard something, but you cannot be told to neglect something.

UPDATE: There may be specific LEGAL ramifications and differences between these words as the other answer pointed out. I was intrigued and investigated:

In legal contexts, the words "overlook," "ignore," "neglect," and "disregard" have nuanced meanings that reflect varying degrees of culpability or intent in failing to attend to responsibilities or details.

Overlook: This generally an unintentional failure to notice or address something, often due to oversight or omission. In legal terms, overlooking something might not carry direct culpability unless it results from negligence or failure to fulfil a duty of care.

Ignore: This is an intentional decision to not acknowledge or address something that one is aware of. Legally, ignoring something can imply awareness of a potential issue, problem, or duty and choosing not to act on it, which can lead to liability if the action was obligatory.

Neglect: This carries a heavier connotation of failing to care for something or someone when there's a duty to do so. Legal neglect involves the failure to provide the necessary care, assistance, or action, leading to harm or risk of harm. It can be intentional or unintentional but is often associated with a breach of duty that results in actual harm or damage.

Disregard: Similar to ignore, but with a stronger emphasis on consciously deciding to treat something as unworthy of consideration or respect. In a legal context, disregard can imply a wilful neglect of safety, laws, or regulations, potentially leading to liability for any resulting damages or harm.

Some of these can come with quantifiers.

For example Intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, and with criminal negligence.

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    "Overlook" can also be by intent, but in this case it is clear that it is somebody else's deficit or infraction that is being overlooked. In this use I would say it is synonymous with "ignore".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 15:20
  • Yes, there are multiple versions of that. I'll update the answer
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 15:29
  • What about disregard?
    – skan
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 15:53
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    Not part of the question, so I'll disregard it ;) At least I did not overlook your question and subsequently ignored it so don't feel neglected
    – mplungjan
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 16:27
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They connote different states of culpability in the act of not attending to something for a given individual they're describing. To overlook something is to not attend to an object, by forgetting to do so for some trivial reason. To ignore something is to not attend to an object, and to deliberately do so for a considered reason. To neglect something is to not attend to an object, not only deliberately so, but immorally so, perhaps even tortiously so.

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    Interesting... Texas has 4 of those states: intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, and with criminal negligence
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 12:27

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