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notwithstanding = {preposition} In spite of
{adverb} = Nevertheless; in spite of this:

Etymonline: late 14c., notwiþstondynge, from not + present participle of the verb withstand.
A loan-translation of Medieval Latin non obstante "being no hindrance," from ablative of obstans, present participle of obstare "stand opposite to" (see obstacle).
As an adverb and as a conjunction from early 15c.

withstand = [with object] 1. Remain undamaged or unaffected by; resisting :

How can I understand 'notwithstanding', only by thinking in terms of the root withstand?
I try to rewrite notwithstanding below. Did I guess the right definition of withstand above?

1. Notwithstanding X, Y happens.
2. = NOT withstanding X, Y happens.
3. = Failing to withstand X, Y happens.
(In 3, Y is suppressed in the adjunct. Expand it as: Y, failing to withstand X, Y happens.)

  • 1
    'Notwithstanding X' or using postpositionally 'X notwithstanding' means 'X not proving to be an insuperable hindrance'. It's X that doesn't withstand. But with 'Withstanding X ...', it's Y that's overcoming or withstanding X. This is using agent terminology; it may not always be appropriate, but the principle will still hold. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 22 '14 at 10:35
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks for that. It is one I have often pondered. It is far clearer when you say 'X notwithstanding'. It does render 'notwithstanding X' a bit nonsensical, doesn't it? – WS2 Dec 22 '14 at 10:48
  • @Law, your series of substitutions turned notwithstanding on its head. 3. should read "X UN-successfully resisting, Y happened." X is not the object of "withstand"; it is the subject . – ScotM Dec 23 '14 at 2:48
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The OP definition of withstand is correct, but it has a passive construction that visually confuses the 4-sentence formulation. In all four of the OP sentences, the meaning is correct:

Y happens in spite of X

but the 4 sentences have created an optical illusion, because the meaning of the sentences is not tabulated in columns as the OP erroneously assumes.

I propose the following syllogism to avoid confusing withstand and notwithstanding:

Y is happening;

X cannot resist sufficiently;

Therefore, Y happens!


We have several different formulas to express that logical outcome using the word notwithstanding, and each one can be tested for accuracy:

  • As a preposition: "In spite of X, Y happens," yielding a real-life use of notwithstanding:

Notwithstanding Harry's insults, I will smile.

My smile (Y) is happening...Harry's insults (X) cannot resist sufficiently...therefore, my smile happens!


Weather notwithstanding, the parade will happen.

The parade (Y) is happening...the weather (X) cannot resist sufficiently...Therefore, the parade happens!


  • As an adverb: "X happens, nevertheless, Y happens," yielding a real-life use of notwithstanding:

"Jesse cried; notwithstanding, the policeman wrote the citation."

The policeman (Y) is writing the citation...Jesse crying (X) cannot resist sufficiently...therefore, the policeman writes the citation!

We can transpose the word order of an adverbial notwithstanding with precisely the same meaning.

"Jesse cried; the policeman wrote the citation notwithstanding."

The policeman (Y) is writing the citation...Jesse crying (X) cannot resist sufficiently...therefore, the policeman writes the citation!


Conclusion:

The general meaning of notwithstanding is always:

Y happens in spite of X

even when the word order prevents that specific phrasing.

If you absolutely insist on thinking of it in terms of 'withstand' then it is simply,

Y withstands X

, and either of the definitions for 'withstand' can be inserted.

NB: Does it seem like notwithstanding is approaching its natural lexical death? http://grammarist.com/usage/notwithstanding/


  • There probably is a streamline. – ScotM Feb 26 '15 at 0:33
  • Thanks. After rereading your superlative answer, I wonder if your conclusion should instead be: X canNOT withstand Y = Notwithstanding X, Y. Your present conclusion is: Y withstands X, but where's the NOT in NOTwithstanding? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Feb 26 '15 at 4:01
  • 1
    It is a win/lose scenario. Y withstands (successfully resists) X, because X cannot withstand (successfully resist) Y. The Patriots beat the Seahawks, because the Seahawks could not beat the Patriots. The Seahawks notwithstanding, the Patriots won. – ScotM Feb 26 '15 at 5:29
  • Thanks. Sorry for only returning to this now, but would you like to integrate your comment as an answer? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal May 30 '15 at 20:32
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notwithstanding and in spite of call for a noun-phrase (e.g. "its illegality")

Moonshine thrives in the Appalachians, its illegality notwithstanding.
Its illegality notwithstanding, moonshine thrives in the Appalachians.
Moonshine thrives in the Appalachians in spite of its illegality.
In spite of its illegality, moonshine thrives in the Appalachians.

whereas nevertheless calls for a predicate-phrase (e.g. though [it be]|although it is illegal).

Moonshine, though illegal, nevertheless thrives in the Appalachians.
Moonshine, though illegal, thrives in the Appalachians nevertheless.
Moonshine, although it is illegal, nevertheless thrives in the Appalachians.
Moonshine, although it is illegal, thrives in the Appalachians nevertheless.

  • 1
    Elegant attempt, but I'm afraid I don't quite understand. I specifically don't see how though illegal can possibly be a 'predicate'. Indeed the verb thrive is intransitive, so there cannot therefore, by definition, be a predicate. Though illegal and although it is illegal are adjectival clauses. Perhaps that is what you meant? – WS2 Dec 22 '14 at 13:12
  • Would "predication" be clearer? – TRomano Dec 22 '14 at 14:16
  • 'Predication' has essentially the same meaning as 'predicate'. Besides I have never heard of the former being used to describe any feature of grammar. I have learned one thing from this, however, and that is that an intransitive can have a 'predicate'. The latter is 'anything that states something about a subject'. In your example, however, that would be 'thrives in the Appalachian mountains', not 'although it is illegal'. – WS2 Dec 22 '14 at 16:37
  • The intransitivity of thrives has nothing to do with the relationship of nevertheless to the relevant clause. I am trying to describe that relevant clause as a form of assertion, as distinct from the noun-phrase that notwithstanding requires. – TRomano Dec 22 '14 at 23:10
  • I'd call it an adjectival clause. But I'm no authority on grammar, just a humble native speaker. – WS2 Dec 22 '14 at 23:12

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