"Patently" in this context is synonymous with "obvious" so this essentially translates to "obviously obvious". I've heard this particular turn of phrase crop up fairly often - ironically often in academic circles - to the point where I've become baffled at how and why people seem to consider it a perfectly valid expression when it's patently redundant. (Sorry couldn't resist!) Could someone please explain?

  • Is it obvious, patently or otherwise, what problem might be created if the expression is "redundant"? Why would it not be a "perfectly valid expression"?
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 21, 2015 at 1:18
  • 4
    In my experience, some obvious ideas are obvious only in hindsight; for the patently, it's not necessary to wait.
    – deadrat
    Nov 21, 2015 at 1:24
  • Not quite sure what either of you are getting at but what I meant is that if "patently obvious" is synonymous with "obviously obvious" (please correct me if I'm mistaken on this assumption) then it's blatantly ridiculous. If anyone said "truthfully true" we'd laugh at them. This sort of expression sounds more at home on beauty pageant stages than academic lecture halls. Nov 21, 2015 at 1:35
  • In other words, you don't like the way it sounds? How does this make it wrong?
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 21, 2015 at 1:37
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    Note that there are a number of different idioms containing "obvious" -- "not immediately obvious", "obvious upon inspection", "came to be obvious", etc. These do not imply "readily visible" in the sense that "patent" does. And note the definition of "synonym": "a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language". "Patent" and "obvious" are not the same word and do not mean the same thing, with all their nuances. To use one to reinforce the other is not unreasonable.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 21, 2015 at 2:54

5 Answers 5


Old post, but thought I'd join in. For info: I work in Intellectual Property as a Patent Examiner.

The term patently obvious may stem from original intellectual property discussions.

When someone applies for a Patent one of the hurdles they must get over in order for the Patent application to be granted is that it must be inventive, i.e. whatever the supposed invention is must not be obvious to a person skilled in the art compared to what is already known.

In patent examination reports of present and presumably of old, the term 'obvious' is therefore used with a fair amount of frequency when objecting to a claim for an invention in the application.

As such if something were 'patently obvious', it is a particular type of obvious that would not overcome the 'obvious test' used by Patent examiners in assessing an invention. In other words something that is patently obvious is something that is very much within sight given everything else around.

  • Brilliant. This supports how I've interpreted it. DEGREES of obviousness, to which the people who cry "redundant" aren't considering the context. To be PATENTLY obvious, means it passes the litmus test of actually being obvious. May 27, 2021 at 22:00
  • Since you're a Patent Examiner, it's indisputable your opinion is authoritative.
    – martineau
    Sep 2, 2021 at 2:02

There does not seem to be a logical flaw with the statement "the truth of x is obviously obvious." Let us suppose that the properties of x are, in fact, obvious. Suppose that you are having a conversation with John Doe, who is suffering from no mental deficiencies. Mr. Doe, for whatever reason, does not understand the properties of x, even after analyzing x for days. We can tell Mr. Doe that "the properties of x are obviously obvious." There is no logical flaw in this case. One of the truths about x is that its properties are obvious. So, the obviousness of obvious is, in fact, obvious. The sky obviously appears blue at times, and the obviousness of this truth is itself obvious.


People like the sound of it so much they don't bother about the meaning. So much so that it actually has become one word: patentliobvious. Wait, I've got proof!

The phrase "It's just too patently obvious" doesn't make the least bit of sense. Too patently? What? But they still use it, don't they.

ACADEMIC CIRCLES. It's too patently obvious.
SKEPTIC. Are you saying that if if it were less patently but more, say, vaguely, obvious, it would be acceptable?
ACADEMIC CIRCLES. Huh? What are you talking about, my lad?

It has ceased to occur to people that "patently obvious" is actually two words, not one.

  • I'll vote up because it's more or less what I expected but hesitant to accept this answer as it's not really satisfying. Of course, it could simply be the case that there's nothing more to say on the matter and then it's no fault of yours that I find the answer unsatisfying, but for now gonna wait and see if anyone else has something more insightful to offer. Nov 21, 2015 at 2:06
  • @user1985189: I could rewrite it in terza rima, if you wish.
    – Ricky
    Nov 21, 2015 at 2:08
  • For that I would create a second account and thumbs up again! :P (Not really though) Nov 21, 2015 at 2:13
  • Don't encourage him, 1985189 -- he'll do it. OK, @Ricky, put down that iamb, back away, and nobody gets hurt.
    – deadrat
    Nov 21, 2015 at 4:04
  • Creative and imaginative.
    – user140086
    Nov 21, 2015 at 5:53

I used the term obvious as a math student in college to mean that the truth was evident to anyone who thought about. I learned later in life that what what was obvious to one person may be questionable to another. I don’t use the term obvious any more for reason. I will on rare occasion use the term patently because it seems to Imply there is some evidence.


I vote with the people who say it is redundant. Usually, when I hear someone say "patently obvious," I assume they don't know, or aren't paying attention to, what the words mean.

  • 1
    Hi Linda, welcome to English Language & Usage. Note that this site is a bit different from other Q&A sites: an answer is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct - whereas your post is simply a comment on other posts plus a personal opinion. For further guidance, see How to Answer. Posting comments is a privilege you can easily earn through further participation on our site. I can also recommend taking the Tour :-) Nov 2, 2018 at 0:57

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