I'm reading a book right now where there are a lot of strange events that the main character doesn't question and I'm having difficulty describing them. What is a word for not seeing obvious warning signs?

For example, in the book, the main character has just gotten a new job and their employer requires them to provide a copy of their birth certificate. The main character does this without questioning it at all. They are not ignoring that this is strange, rather they don't even acknowledge it as strange.

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    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 10:42

17 Answers 17


"Oblivious" used to refer to forgetting, but is now often used for this sort of failure to notice. It lacks any special connection to warning signs, as do my other suggestions.


  1. lacking remembrance, memory, or mindful attention

  2. lacking active conscious knowledge or awareness —usually used with of or to

"Father was oblivious to the man's speculative notice of his wife."

And one I happened across and liked: "In my career I have never felt that my being a woman was an obstacle or an advantage. I guess I've been oblivious." -- Carole King

It seems to me that other close words, more casual and apparently less specific, include clueless and dense.

Again from Merriam-Webster website: Definition of clueless include "completely or hopelessly bewildered, unaware, ignorant, or foolish."

And as to dense, Merriam-Webster defines it as "slow to understand," making it the loosest fit for the word sought. But it seems to me that the word is used as I suggest, for a failure to see what is obviously in front of you.

But I did not find instances of careful writers using the words the words clueless or dense as I have suggested.

  • This works but I was looking for something more specific. Since I didn't word the question clearly enough I'll mark it as best answer. However, I was looking for specifically overlooking major issues. Oblivious is definitely close but it implies a general sense of unawareness. The main character is very aware and sharp of other things around them but they fail to see the major issues that would be considered extremely problematic in most other's eyes. Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 22:39
  • @Matthew for single word requests you're suppose to write a sentence leaving a blank where the single word should go. That way, we don't have to guess. Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 6:01
  • Not to be rude, but the answer is obliviousness, not oblivious.
    – mrr
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 4:14
  • 1
    I don't know whom you're not being rude to; but what is more to the point, I guess, I don't know why you prefer a noun to a verb. In the first place the question was a word for "not seeing." You could say that he is "not seeing," he is "oblivious," he is "dense," or he is "clueless." Adjectives seem a better fit than nouns like "obliviousness." Also, a preference for nouns would force us to choose between words that all sound strange to me in this context, like his "density" or his "denseness."
    – Chaim
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 13:07

If the person is oblivious to these signs because they are focused on something else, you could say that they have "tunnel vision".

This alludes to the visual effect when traveling through a tunnel. You can only see the end of the tunnel, and everything else around you is obscured.

In your specific example, they are probably too focused on pleasing their new boss by following his instructions to think about whether they should follow the instructions.

From M-W

a tendency to think only about one thing and to ignore everything else

single-minded concentration on one objective

From Dictionary.com

narrowness of viewpoint resulting from concentration on a single idea, opinion, etc, to the exclusion of others


Blinkered, similar to tunnel vision from @DCShannon's answer, e.g.:

a blinkered attitude


limited in scope or understanding : narrow-minded

Source: merriam-webster

  • 8
    If you understand the origin of the word it has particular significance, as "blinkers" (also known as "blinders") are the things worn by horses when used in traffic, to obstruct their side vision and prevent them from being distracted/startled by things going on anywhere but directly in front of them. There is an American idiom "he had blinders on", meaning he was not paying attention to anything going on around him.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 12:53

can't see the wood for the trees (uk).
can't see the forest for the trees (us).
to be unable to understand a situation clearly because you are too involved in it - http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/can-t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees

Edit: Oops, I didn't notice the single word request tag when answering.

  • 1
    I know the request asked for a single word, but this is a genuinely good answer. It's how this situation is most likely to be expressed in the English language.
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 10:56
  • 1
    I don't think this fits the described situation. This idiom means that someone is too concerned with details to see the big picture, not that someone does not notice details which might hint at some larger scheme. If anything, the situation is "Didn't know I was in a forest, because I was so busy looking at my shoes I didn't see that there are trees all around."
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 16:50
  • For the US version, I've always heard it as "through the trees," not "for the trees." Maybe that's wrong, though.
    – Kenneth K.
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 20:46
  • 1
    @KennethK. It is "for the trees", where "for" means "because of". I suppose "through" could make sense if you didn't overthink it, although on the other hand if you're looking through all the trees, the only thing on the other side is no forest. In any case, it's definitely "for", a least as "definitely" as anything can be anything in English; but I think most people wouldn't raise an eyebrow if you said "through".
    – Jason C
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 4:59

Regarding a character who fails to notice obvious warning signs, one may say the character does not see the writing on the wall. (See definitions and examples of "seeing the writing on the wall" at the Free Dictionary and the Collins Dictionary.)

The phrase is said to originate from the Biblical story of Belshazzar, who actually did see a warning written on a wall but was unable to understand what it really meant.



1 : lacking remembrance, memory, or mindful attention

2 : lacking active conscious knowledge or awareness —usually used with of or to (MW)

The word has a sort of "poetic resonance" (I know there's another term but it isn't coming to me), since it sounds like the antonym of "obvious". And it's frequently used in a sense meaning, roughly, "conscious ignorance" or "intentional ignorance".


Naive or callow.

na·ive/nīˈēv/ adjective (of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment.

Cal·low/ˈkalō/ adjective (especially of a young person) inexperienced and immature


It can be described as sleepwalking into a situation:

UK 'sleepwalking into Stasi state' - The Guardian



  • Being unaware of, ignorant of, or inattentive to that which most others would notice.
  • 2
    Can you provide more support to this answer? Maybe a link to the definition you provided?
    – Hank
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 14:56
  • 1
    It's a good word, and the definition definitely matches, but we do need a citation if the definition is a quote, which it appears to be.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 17:59

Granted, not one word but the next step above oblivious would be 'Willful Blindness'. Is the character not seeing the warning signs because they don't want to?

Recently brought into the media with a book of the same name by Margaret Heffernan.


Myopic is a word that implies short-sightedness, both in literal terms and in figurative terms.

1: a condition in which the visual images come to a focus (see 1focus 1) in front of the retina of the eye resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects

2: a lack of foresight or discernment : a narrow view of something < … those require long-term commitments, which in our current myopia we cannot take on. — Adam Smith> [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/myopic]


You may say that the person in question is behaving like an ostrich.


ostrich noun

3. a person who attempts to ignore unpleasant facts or situations.

You may also want to consider saying that they are ostriching (though ostriching is not officially a word yet apparently).


ostriching [New Word Suggestion]

When a person buries their head in the sand to avoid a problem.

Additional Information:
Article in the International Business Times. Royal insider Joe Little told IBTimes UK last week: "The Queen has never been great with family confrontations and, rather like her mother, she is good at 'ostriching' – burying her head in the sand until the problem has gone away. If she sides with number one son she upsets number two son, and vice versa."

  • I don't think this applies, because it implies willfully refusing to accept something.
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 16:51

Gullible: easily persuaded to believe something; credulous.

A common practical joke is to tell someone that the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary to have them check it to have the realization set in that they were played for a fool. In other words, they proved to be gullible.



Merriam Webster definition of complacent:

1: marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies :marked by complacency :self-satisfied

2: complaisant 1

3: unconcerned


You could say they are unobservant/imperceptive.


unobservant ADJECTIVE

Not observant.

‘Blogger have recently added a new feature (well it's new to me, but I'm fairly unobservant, so it's probably been around for months) allowing you to create your own little profile page.’

observant ADJECTIVE

1 Quick to notice things.
‘her observant eye took in every detail’


imperceptive adjective

: not perceptive : an imperceptive reader

imperceptive critics who failed to see that it was much more than another mindless action movie


It's probably less applicable to your specific request, but snowblind could apply:

From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:

  Snow-blind \Snow"-blind`\, a.
     Affected with blindness by the brilliancy of snow. --
     {Snow"-blind`ness}, n.
     [1913 Webster]

It would be more applicable if the person in question had been overexposed to something else so they're blinded to the warning signs.


The person in the story might be delusional

Adjective from "delusion". Definition of delusion from Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1: the act of tricking or deceiving someone or the state of being deluded e.g "… accused the Bohemian of having practised the most abominable arts of delusion among the younger brethren." — Walter Scott

2 a: something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated e.g. "under the delusion that they will finish on schedule" or "delusions of grandeur"

b: a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary e.g. "the delusion that someone was out to hurt him"; also the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

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