I'm looking for an adverb that specifies that a negative quality appears not to be present but actually is, for any reason. I can't describe it well so this would be better served by examples. I'd like to be able to fill in the blank in all of the following contexts:

  • The researcher's methods appeared to be sound, but when examined closely, they were not. (Cause: an honest mistake)

    → The researcher's methods were _____ly unsound.

  • The politician's statements appeared to be truthful, but when we dug deeper, we found that they were lies. (Cause: intentional deception)

    → The politician's statements were _____ly dishonest.

  • The user manual appeared to be complete, but when I actually read it, it turned out to be useless. (Cause: writer did not understand consumer needs)

    → The user manual was _____ly useless.

  • The paint job on the house appeared to be done correctly, but began peeling within a week. (Cause: lack of skill by painter, lack of knowledge by observer)

    → The paint job on the house was of _____ly low quality.

In essence, I'm looking for an adverb that signifies that on the surface / at a glance something appears not to be X, but "when you get right down to it", it actually is. However, this adverb must...

  • ... not carry any implications about the underlying reason. It can have a negative connotation (as in, criticism, or showing disappointment on the part of the speaker), but must be neutral in its implications. For example, it can't imply intentional deception vs. an honest mistake vs. a simple lack of skill as the cause.
  • ... be applicable to the quality that something really has, not the quality it appeared to have. That is, it describes something that "appeared to be opposite-of-X but actually was X" rather than something that "appeared to be X but actually was opposite-of-X", where X is the word it modifies.

In particular, the word I'm looking for should stress the fact that something appears to not be X on the surface.

Does such a word exist? I hope I explained this clearly.

  • The closest match I can think of is intrinsically, which can mean (among other things, in the adjective form intrinsic) "originating or due to causes within a body, organ, or part," according to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary. Being within the body or part makes it difficult (in some circumstances) to identify by simply viewing the surface of the thing being observed—but it is nevertheless there. The adverb intrinsically seems to work with all four examples you provide. Somewhat similar (but less good, in my opinion) alternatives are inherently and internally.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 8:28

4 Answers 4


I don't think there is any one word that will satisfy this set of nuances. "Speciously" would require a reversed valency on all your sentences (what is speciously X is not X), and "inconspicuously" carries the notion that the quality was actually not salient — whereas you seem to want a word that implies that the appearance is noticeable, but belies the reality.

"Surprisingly" or "unexpectedly" gets pretty close, particularly if set off by commas to affect the whole clause rather than just the degree of the adjective. That is, not

Their methods were unexpectedly unsound. (They had been known to be unsound, but the degree was not known.)


Their methods were, unexpectedly, unsound. (They had been thought to be sound.)

However, both "surprisingly" and "unexpectedly" are too vague to indicate whence the surprise arises. You need it to be due to the outward appearance of their methods, but in these sentences the surprise could come about because you had been told they were excellent researchers, not because their methods ever gave any sign of being sound...

The shortest route to what you want might be the phrase "despite appearances".


It's a little clunky, but unapparently means exactly this. From Collins Dictionary:

unapparent adjective
not apparent, obvious, or visible

The OED attests the adverbial form back to 1599; in the 21st century it appears to be used in this sense mostly in the medical field in the phrase unapparently infected to refer to individuals who are infected with a disease but who are not (yet) exhibiting symptoms. See, for example, this article on parrots with herpes and this one on hemorrhagic fever.1

The term unobviously is very similar2 and possibly in slightly wider use, but I think does not quite as clearly connote that the initial appearance is deceptive; it could potentially also include characteristics that just go unnoticed, rather than characteristics that somehow don't match surface appearances. However, I believe it can be used in the way that you want. Some examples of usage, in decreasing order of applicability to your definition:

[T]here is reason to think that at least some of the principles that Kant takes to be synthetic a priori are instead unobviously analytic . . . . (Georges Dicker, Kant's Theory of Knowledge: An Analytical Introduction, 2004)

Yet, apart from 'over-production', this dreadful degree of unemployment was also due — however indirectly and therefore unobviously — to . . . competitive pressures . . . . (Victor Skipp & Victor Henry Thomas Skipp, Industrial Revolution 'then' and 'now', 2002)

I took a firm grip of Josella's hand, and we started to worm our way along as unobviously as possible. (John Wyndham, Day of the Triffids, 1951)

Even less precise but more common and less convoluted would be surprisingly or unexpectedly.

So, to make up an example that I think is in the spirit of your other examples, if a beautifully decorated cake turns out to be made of Styrofoam, you could say:

The cake was unapparently inedible.

The cake was unobviously inedible.

The cake was surprisingly inedible.

The cake was unexpectedly inedible.3

1 The form non-apparent or nonapparent also appears, as in the legal term nonapparent easement noun: an easement not involving any permanent visible sign of its existence (as an easement of a way or of drawing a net upon a shore) —distinguished from apparent easement (Merriam-Webster)

2 unobvious adjective not immediately evident or apparent

3 Or, of course, the cake was a lie.

  • Not bad. The probability of these terms' being accepted by all readers/listeners may not be high enough, but as the question omits this parameter or the intended contexts, it's probably not an issue. :) Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 17:28
  • I had a lot of trouble deciding on an answer to accept here, this answer in particular is wonderful. However, at the end, I found that rephrasing and using "despite appearances", while it wasn't 100% what I was initially looking for, leads to the smoothest flow. Still, this answer also applies equally well in other situations. Thank you.
    – Jason C
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 17:18

You should try inconspicuously.

→ The researcher's methods were inconspicuously unsound.
→ The politician's statements were inconspicuously dishonest.
→ The user manual was inconspicuously useless.
→ The paint job on the house was of inconspicuously low quality.

Also, unnoticeably may work.


inconspicuous adjective

: not readily noticeable

  • inconspicuously adverb

left an inconspicuous scratch on the wall

unnoticeable adjective

: not worthy or likely to be noticed : not noticeable : a tiny, unnoticeable mark; an unnoticeable change

  • unnoticeably adverb

Perhaps speciously will work for you:


  1. Having a false look of truth or genuineness

  2. Superficially plausible, but actually wrong


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