Recently, I've seen the word unbeknown, which was new to me. Is there any difference between unknown and unbeknown in meaning and/or usage?

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    It should be unbeknownst, and it's a fragment of a fixed phrase: X (be) unbeknownst to P, or initially, Unbeknownst to P, X, where P is some person. Both mean that P doesn't know X. – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 16:53
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    'That fact was unknown to me' vs 'That fact was unbeknown to me'. The second one is a bit old fashioned. – Mitch Jun 22 '14 at 16:54
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    It appears that unbeknown is a variant of unbeknownst, which isn't all that surprising. There are already two prefixes and one other suffix beside the archic -st, and that's hard to pronounce, so it'd be the first thing abandoned. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unbeknownst – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 17:07
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    @JohnLawler I notice that the OED says of unbeknownst: “The analogy on which the -s or -st has been added is not clear.” Me, I’m betting the analogy is on the -st that appears in prepositions like against, amidst, amongst, and not the one from the superlative degree. At least, that’s the excuse used for whilst. – tchrist Jun 22 '14 at 17:15
  • possible duplicate of Why (and for whom) does "unbeknown" become "unbeknownst" – tchrist Jun 22 '14 at 17:28

Unbeknown equals unknown; unbeknown is usually followed by to.

  • It is unknown why she did this.
  • It is unbeknown to me/us why she did this.

Unknown and unbeknown have very similar definitions and appear to be interchangeable based on these definitions but sometimes one sounds more correct than the other.

Also, unbeknownst is in Webster’s Dictionary as another way to say unbeknown.


Let's compare the verbs borrow vs lend using the verbs receive and supply.

  • borrow relates to accepting funds.
  • lend relates to supplying funds.

The above comparison is unrelated to the words we are discussing except to illustrate the difference between receiver and supplier.

Let's compare the adjectives known vs beknown.

  • know = the root word of the words being discussed here.
  • known
    = past participle of know which relates to the party receiving attention
    = describing party supplying the presence for awareness.
  • beknown
    relates to the party supplying the attention
    = describing party having/receiving the awareness of a presence.
  • beknow = verb from which beknown is derivable.

Actually, beknown is archaic in use. It is an intermediate step I coined as a bridge to the next explanation.

Let's compare the adjectives/adverbs unknown vs unbeknown.

  • unknown
    = negative of past participle of know which relates to the party receiving attention
    = party supplying the presence, but not emanating the awareness of its presence.
  • unbeknown
    relates to the party supplying the attention, but not having/receiving the awareness of a presence

However, unknown has also taken up the meaning of unbeknown. i.e., unknown can be used in place of unbeknown, but not conversely.

Unbeknownst is the more commonly used form of unbeknown.

Unbeknownst, Unbeknown are used if we wish to clearly communicate the restricted direction/indirection of flow of knowledge.


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