Jack from India: what sort of country is USA?

Tom: the USA is a very big country, and very democratic!

Jack from India later tells a friend: I asked Tom; USA is ......

I asked Tom; USA is a very big country, and obviously very democratic.

I asked Tom; USA is a very big country, and apparently very democratic.

I asked Tom; USA is a very big country, and evidently very democratic.

I asked Tom; USA is obviously a very big country, and apparently very democratic.

I asked Tom; USA is apparently a very big country, and evidently very democratic.

I asked Tom; USA is evidently a very big country, and obviously very democratic.

In the specific context of something not originally or directly known to the speaker, but heard from someone else and later reported, how do obviously, apparently and evidently modify the meaning of such statements, especially in terms of conveying the speaker's level of confidence in the veracity of what someone said?

Please note: I do not use 'apparently' here to mean 'looks so, but is not really so' as in "he is apparently a honest man (but not really one)", but in the sense 'I wouldn't know to begin with, but so-and-so says so', as in mathematics is apparently a very challenging science (I wouldn't know, but Tom says so!)

  • This is a specious question. And it's the USA. Not USA, fyi. It makes no difference whether the speech is reported or direct. In any case, you have not got one sentence in reported speech.
    – Lambie
    May 27 '17 at 21:46
  • You also have repetitions. Those words mean the same regardless of the type of speech.
    – Lambie
    May 27 '17 at 21:49
  • 1
    @Lambie Specious : superficially plausible, but actually wrong. google.co.in/… "a specious question" Why specious? I routinely see and use 'obviously' 'apparently' and 'evidently' but would like to better understand which is best for what context. And thanks for the tip about 'the USA' -- yes indeed it is, but Indians often say 'USA' not 'the USA'. I have now edited Tom's reply and made it 'the USA' but Jack the Indian says 'USA' only! May 27 '17 at 22:15
  • 1
    @Lambie I meant 'reporting what someone said', the facts of which are not previously / directly known to the speaker as in "I didnt know about this to begin with, but Tom says USA is a very big country, and evidently very democratic." I have removed 'reported speech' from the title by edit. And this question is not about the USA, which is only used as an example! Thanks for your feedback which helped me to correct the error of using the term 'reported speech' out of its proper grammatical context. May 27 '17 at 22:30
  • Possible duplicate of what's the difference between "apparent", "evident" and "obvious"?
    – Jim
    May 28 '17 at 4:08

The three words obviously, apparently, and evidently are similar, but have slightly different meanings.

Obviously refers to something that needs no evidence to be understood. "In a way that is easily perceived or understood; clearly," according to the dictionary. That is, it's something that you couldn't help knowing. If you saw a glass on its side on a table surrounded by a puddle of milk, it would be obvious that the glass fell over and spilled.

Apparently is defined as "As far as one knows or can see." That is, it is the result of the best information one has on hand. Knowing that your son is the only other person in the house, he apparently spilled his milk and didn't clean it up.

Lastly, Evidently can mean the same as obviously, but it holds a connotation (to me, anyway) of being more evidence-based, and not necessarily completely obvious. It also means "It would seem that" and seems the likely usage here. Evidently, your son is not as responsible as you thought.

Oh, and the correct phrase for the second half is "... and no longer very democratic."

  • Thanks for a very lucid answer that brings out the fine difference! I specifically wanted to understand how the choice of adverb would reflect the speaker's level of confidence in the veracity of what someone said -- the confidence in 'obviously' is obvious, but does using 'evidently' suggest greater confidence than using 'apparently'? You recently noted that the meaning of 'songwriter' includes music and lyrics. I didnt know that but am confident you know it, so I replied 'in Europe/USA songwriter evidently means lyrics and composition.' If less confident I would have used 'apparently.' May 27 '17 at 22:46
  • I have heard statements like "I asked Tom; this is apparently a very fair system" or "Tom has made his choice; this horse is obviously a sure shot winner" when the meaning was actually the contrary. Are these words usually used in a sarcastic or ironic sense? May 27 '17 at 22:52
  • I would agree that apparently represents a lower level of confidence than evidently. Both carry a sense of "I didn't know that previously" or "It turns out that...". May 28 '17 at 4:53
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    Yes, both those statements could be said sarcastically, especially the one with obviously. Because of the strength of obviously, saying it sarcastically is stronger than using apparently the same way. (I hope that makes sense; it's late and I'm totally knackered.) May 28 '17 at 4:57
  • Thank you.You have confirmed what I thought and it makes a lot of sense! May 28 '17 at 6:20

Just a thought: According to Webster's dictionary of synonyms and antonyms (1984): "A. S. Hill 1895 distinguishes between apparently and evidently in this way: Apparently is properly used of that which seems, but may not be, real; evidently, of that which both seems and is real. Hill's observation is still essentially right. Evidently regularly suggests that there is some overt reason for drawing an inference... Apparently is used as a disclaimer, as if the author were telling us, 'This is what it seems to be, but I won't vouch for it.'"

So, a term that in its essentials means obvious, when changed by the simple addition of two letters, apparently becomes a term signifying ambiguity. Language is both amusing and odd, funny in its ways.

Apropos of boots, I have come to StackExchange on several occasions, and, so far, I have yet to be pleasantly surprised by the absence of a comment from someone sounding reactive and petty rather than responsive and penetrating.

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