I can't think of a word that would describe the feeling of not knowing any better.

The description is for a child, and the sentence would go like:

He was young and an adjective with this meaning instead of the phrase "didn't know any better"

but I'm not sure if there is one. The words I've discarded because they're just not the exact match of what I'm looking for are: naive, ignorant, immature, guileless.

What I want is a word that expresses that this child was in a difficult position, had grown up in a problematic environment and therefore made a wrong decision. Okay maybe this can't be described with only an adjective, but maybe a phrase that isn't "didn't know any better" but has a similar meaning? Help? :)

  • 5
    Naive, ignorant, innocent? Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 21:53
  • 1
    @Phoebs excusable?
    – Elian
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 22:08
  • 1
    How about a "product of his environment"? Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 22:08
  • 1
    Thank you! I think I came up with something using a combination of "excusable" and "product of his environment".
    – Phoebs
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 22:19
  • 2
    How about inexperienced? You get to know by experience.
    – ermanen
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 22:31

3 Answers 3


"Young and foolish" is the phrase that springs to mind, as a British English native speaker, anyway...

  • 1
    Although foolish implies that they did know they were just willing to take the risk because they felt the invincibility of youth
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 23:01
  • @Jim - yes, but 'young and foolish' is also used idiomatically to refer to the generic folly of youth, no? (Yeats, 'Sally Gardens')
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 23:52
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    @Dan- While I don't disagree that both "young and foolish" and "young and naive" are both plausible excuses, I think they differ significantly in meaning.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 0:22

If you mean "didn't know any better" in the sense of "didn't know that it was wrong", how about "innocent"?

e.g. an innocent error, an innocent entry into the sacred place.

If you mean "knew it wasn't quite right, but had never been told it was terribly wrong", how about "naive"?

e.g. a naive public statement of private opinions, a naive acceptance of a gift from a shady businessman with ulterior motives.


Ingenuous usually carries the meaning of naïve or unknowing, often because of youth and inexperience.

  • Not sure why this was down-voted ... I think it is a suitable answer.
    – Cargill
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 2:13
  • not sure why it was down-voted, either. I think this word would work in a certain context where the person in question is trusting in a gullible way. However, this character I'm describing may be unknowing because of youth but he's also acting in a certain way due to his difficult upbringing. I believe maybe ingenuous would not fully convey those nuances.
    – Phoebs
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 4:30
  • Possibly "troubled" (often used in conjunction with "youth"), but also "dysfunctional" - unless that is becoming a bit too harsh. You can also say "poorly socialised" for problem children in early childhood education.
    – Cargill
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 22:08
  • Just to add: rather than describing their background (such as "neglected" or "abusive"), perhaps the child today can be described as "reckless", "impetuous", "indiscriminate", or "troublesome".
    – Cargill
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 22:26

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