In the context of a business report would there be a difference (albeit subtle) between writing of "a seemingly unambitious plan" and "an apparently unambitious plan"?

To me the first seems to suggest that in reality the plan is ambitious, we just can't see it. Is this also the case for the second?

Edit — more explanation:

One of my difficulties is the differences in definitions (seemingly doesn't appear in most dictionaries).

The definitions from Google:


  1. Give the impression or sensation of being something or having a particular quality: "Dawn seemed annoyed".


  1. Clearly visible or understood; obvious.
  2. Seeming real or true, but not necessarily so.

Definition from Merriam-Webster:

seeming: outwardly or superficially evident but not true or real

So the MW definition of seeming seems to closer to the definition of apparent in Google to me.

My query really is whether and to what extent does either word imply that the reality is or may be different to the appearance.

  • 3
    Have you tried looking up the definitions? google.co.uk/search?q=define%3Aseem google.co.uk/search?q=define%3Aapparent
    – Waggers
    Oct 6, 2011 at 8:31
  • 1
    Of course! The definitions didn't really help me though. Does seem suggest that the reality is different from the impression? From these definitions (and others) it doesn't seem clear to me and simply thought that others might have an opinion of the finer nuances of the meaning. From the minus-2 I have for the question it seems/appears I'm on the wrong site.
    – Matt
    Oct 6, 2011 at 13:24
  • 1
    Matt, could you describe why the definitions don't help you distinguish these words?
    – Marthaª
    Oct 6, 2011 at 13:42
  • Hopefully I've explained myself a little better with the edit above. Although I can't seem to get the hang of formatting
    – Matt
    Oct 6, 2011 at 14:03
  • Try the definitions on the OALD: Seemingly vs apparently.
    – Alenanno
    Oct 6, 2011 at 14:34

2 Answers 2


Since you are not getting too many answers I'll give my opinion based on my personal experience -- take that for what it is worth.

It is matter of degree. To use your example: the first report is seemingly unambitious, and the second apparently unambitious. In both cases the reports appeared on the surface to be unambitious, but the speaker leaves open the possibility that they might be more ambitious than the surface impression leads one to believe. However, to say "seemingly unambitious" is to express less certainty than to say "apparently unambitious".

If "Dawn seems annoyed" you might be simply misreading her body language, if she is "apparently annoyed" you have a higher degree of certainty. However, you only know for sure when Dawn starts yelling at you.


To me the first [seemingly] seems to suggest that in reality the plan is ambitious, we just can't see it.

Or it isn’t obvious until you look closer. I agree.

Is this also the case for the second [apparently]?

No, apparently is different; it does not imply that the reality is the opposite.

However: your readers will assume that you used the word apparently for a purpose! Perhaps they’ll assume you just meant that you didn’t fully examine the plan, but it looks unambitious. Or perhaps they’ll assume that you think the plan might be ambitious after all. In either case, they get that impression not from the word itself but from the fact that you chose to use it.

  • Thanks Jason. Perhaps you're right, the semantics are perhaps secondary to the impression that the choice of using either word gives.
    – Matt
    Oct 6, 2011 at 15:37

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