I've heard the phrase "turn a blind eye" and I'm wondering if there is a single word to represent this. In my context, I'm looking to describe something negative, for instance:

She turned a blind eye to her child's behaviour when she discovered he was bullying other kids at school.

A bad supervisor will turn a blind eye to his or her employees' poor work habits.

Neglect doesn't seem appropriate in some of these contexts. I've thought about using disregard or ignore but I'm not sure if they convey the same meaning/what the differences are.

Is there a single verb to represent this phrase?

  • 6
    ignore seems closest to me. I don't think there's a single word that conveys the nuance of the phrase, though.
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 0:20
  • 2
    why must it be a single word? To feign ignorance could be used but it is two words.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 0:25
  • As I got -1, can someone explain how I can improve the question? I'm usually on Stack Overflow so I'm not that familiar with this community. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 0:46
  • 1
    It is probably because you didn't provide evidence of having looked at the dictionary definitions. I didn't down vote you, but this is a stated reason for down voting. Please take a few minutes to take the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 3:09
  • If you insist on a single word, I see nothing wrong with "ignore".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 20:37

10 Answers 10


Tolerate and condone go to the other end of the spectrum: they imply that the person knows of the offense but does nothing about it.


Ignore: to refuse to pay attention to; disregard.

From the Latin ignōrāre: in- ‘not’ + gno-, a base meaning ‘know’. It implies the refusal to take notice of or acknowledge; disregard intentionally.


to pay no attention or heed to; ignore; to show no evidence of attention concerning (something); to treat without proper respect or attentiveness. - AHDEL


To overlook, to ignore, to disregard, to neglect should be appropriate to use in place of this idiom. The meaning of the idiom is to ignore deliberately, to pretend not to notice. (See the idiom's entries in WordReference.com and CollinsDictionary.com.) In fact there are many synonyms for this.

According to Phrases.org, the origin of the idiom goes like this: Admiral Horatio Nelson is supposed to have said this when wilfully disobeying a signal to withdraw during a naval engagement during the battle of Copenhagen in 1801, when the Admiral Sir Hyde Parker sent a signal (by use of flags) for Nelson to disengage. Nelson was convinced he could win if he persisted and that's when he said to have 'turned a blind eye' on the flag signals. Chapter VII of the biography The Life of Horatio Lord Nelson by Robert Southey claims the actual words of Nelson to Captain Thomas Foley were:

"... You know, Foley," turning to the captain, "I have only one eye,—I have a right to be blind sometimes:" and then putting the glass to his blind eye, in that mood of mind which sports with bitterness, he exclaimed, "I really do not see the signal!"

And thus the idiom "to turn a blind eye" on something/someone.

Thus, using ignore, dismiss, disregard, overlook, pretend not to see should be fine depending on the exact requirement of the sentence. For example:

  1. Only parents could overlook that kind of behavior.

    Only parents could turn a blind eye on such behavior.

  2. Teachers overlooked the bad handwriting in cases where students were able to secure only passing marks.

    Teachers turned a blind eye to the handwriting in cases where students were able to secure only passing marks.

  3. The corrupt inspector agreed to pretend not to see the safety violations.

    The corrupt inspector agreed to turn a blind eye to the safety violations.

  4. The Management ignores the bullying at the workplace.

    The Management turns a blind eye on the bullying at the workplace.

  • 1
    From a historical point of view, Parker´s order to withdraw was designed to be disregarded if Nelson wished to continue the battle. The British Articles of War were strict, and so Nelson could only withdraw if ordered to do so, no matter what the situation, as seen by the execution of Admiral Byng half a century earlier. Parker´s words when giving the order were "I will make the signal of recall for Nelson's sake. If he is in condition to continue the action, he will disregard it; if he is not, it will be an excuse for his retreat and no blame can be imputed to him."
    – Henry
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 17:57

The normal word for this overlook.

The word has different shades of meaning and Cambridge Dictionary gives:

to forgive or pretend not to notice something
I'm prepared to overlook his behaviour this time.

while Merriam-Webster has:

to look past : miss
learned to overlook her boyfriend's minor faults
minor misdemeanors may sometimes be overlooked

and Collins has:

If you overlook someone's faults or bad behaviour, you forgive them and take no action.

  • 3
    "Overlook" often denotes failure to notice as opposed to willful disregard...
    – Rusty Tuba
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 1:13
  • 2
    ... Yes, but "overlook" often denotes willful disregard as opposed to failure to notice. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 1:21
  • 2
    @RustyTuba it's impossible to overlook something you haven't noticed. I think this is probably a good an answer as one is going to get; if there were a perfect synonym with exactly the same nuance, we wouldn't have the expression "turn a blind eye" at all.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 1:46
  • 3
    @Jon: That's odd, because most definitions of overlook say precisely "fail to see or notice." Yes, it can also be used with a willful meaning, but not always. That's why I feel "disregard" (always willful) may be better.
    – Rusty Tuba
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 2:03
  • -1 I can't overlook the fact that you have failed to provide any references to back up your claim. (Hatarchy?)
    – Frank
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 7:27

Obviously there are lots of great answers above, but I thought I'd add a fun one that I always liked even though it is archaic. It is the word "wink". If, for example, you "wink" at someone's transgression you are closing your eyes to it. It is an archaic word but I always liked the mind picture it evoked, sufficient that even those unfamiliar with the word's particular meaning, it would nonetheless convey the sense.

"Since the writing was so dynamic the reviewer often winked at his sloppy grammar so that he could enjoy the story."

Wiktionary: Wink - (archaic, intransitive) To turn a blind eye.


Neglected will be suitable word in this context. According to Cambridge Dictionary Neglect is defined as "to not give enough care or attention to people or things that are your responsibility".


close one's eyes to (something)

To ignore something, to pretend that something is not really happening

The man closed his eyes to the problems that were happening in his company. The Idiom Connection


in the most egregious cases, complicit or "be complicit"

involved with others in an illegal activity or wrongdoing (Oxford)

When a wrong-doing or injustice is committed and others see this but do nothing, they are essentially complicit via inaction, even if they didn't explicitly help the offender execute the crime.



to stop being involved with a person or group : to stop taking part in something

Used as an intransitive verb, it is more specifically defined as:

to release or detach oneself


Connive at/in carries the same meaning as turn a blind eye or deaf ear. It means to secretly allow (something considered immoral, illegal, wrong, or harmful) to occur: you have it in your power to connive at my escape. From Latin connivere ‘shut the eyes (to),’ from con- ‘together’ + an unrecorded word related to nictare ‘to wink.’


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