I use both words, but only now does it occur to me, what's the actual.difference?

Specifically this kind of usage:

  • "in restrospect" (or "retrospectively") "we should have thought of that"


    "in hindsight we should have thought of that"
  • I would say the major differences are that hindsight is more colloquial and used more in idioms/sayings; "Hindsight is 2020." Also "hindsight" can't be made into an adjective or adverb . "Retrospective" on the other hand sounds kind of technical. – katatahito Jun 17 at 8:05
  • What has your research shown? – Phil Sweet Jun 17 at 9:36

Retrospect refers to any instance of looking back at the past. Hindsight usually implies a realisation that you would have done something different, or seen a situation in another light, if you had known what you know today.

  • What about "in restrospect" (or "retrospectively") "we should have thought of that", vs "in hindsight...,." ? – Stilez Jun 17 at 11:09
  • I didn't say you couldn't use 'in retrospect' in that sense, just that 'with hindsight' has that particular meaning. – Kate Bunting Jun 17 at 12:00
  • Yes - that said however, its that sense I'm trying to understand if there is a difference? Edited question to clarify - and thank you so far! – Stilez Jun 17 at 12:43

The main difference is connotation.

  • Retrospect (first used in 17th century according to the OED) comes from the Latin retro- (back) and -spectus (from the verb specio, specere - to look or watch).

  • Hindsight (first used in 19th century according to the OED) comes from Old English / Germanic hind (back, behind) and sight (see, look).

In terms of connotation, words with Latin origins in English tend to be heard as more technical or professional, whereas words from Old English or Germanic origins tend to be heard as more colloquial or to-the-point. (See this EL&U exchange, "Assessing Formality via the Root of the Word," for more pairs or triads of words that work similarly).

So these words preceded by "in" mean similar things and are often used interchangeably, but retrospect carries a whiff of the erudite while hindsight sounds a touch more brisk. That said, the connotations are pretty weak. For example:

In retrospect, it was the beginning of the end of Morris's tenure as head coach.

In hindsight, Perez regrets choosing McLaren over Ferrari

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