Are those words pure synonyms or is there any difference? What would be the most obvious usage of those words?

  • 1
    For all intents and purposes, they are synonyms. But "pure synonym" is sorta like perfect sphere — "virtually nonexistent". There's difference still between them.
    – user405662
    Nov 15, 2022 at 15:15
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    They could be used interchangeably, but they are subtly different in sense. Compare not knowingly (unwittingly) to without attention (inadvertantly). Nov 15, 2022 at 15:41
  • If you do something unwittingly, you definitely weren't aware that you were doing it. But there's no such implication with something done inadvertently - maybe you noticed, maybe you didn't; it's "agnostic" on that point. All we know is you didn't do it deliberately (with the strong implication that if you'd been able to avoid doing it, you would have). Any dictionary should make this distinction clear. Nov 15, 2022 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


Inadvertently is a synonym of unwittingly in that they refer to an unintentional act. Unwittingly also has the denotation that one is unaware of the act.

: not knowing : UNAWARE
kept the truth from their unwitting friends


This may be too fine a line for a reader to see in many contexts.


I think the difference comes down to implicit meaning.

"Unwittingly" to me implies a lack of wit, as if the accident was caused by someone who isn't very intelligent.

"Inadvertently" is more of a true "accident", at least, that's how it sounds to me.

  • Unwitting is not about intelligence, it's about not doing something on purpose...,
    – Lambie
    Nov 15, 2022 at 15:53
  • From OED: unwitting (adj.) late 14c., altered from or re-formed to replace unwitand, from Old English unwitende "ignorant". "Ignorant" and "lacking wit" are similar in meaning, are they not?
    – Nicolette
    Nov 15, 2022 at 15:57
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    Unwitting comes from an Old English word meaning not knowing rather than the modern wit meaning intelligence. Nov 15, 2022 at 16:36

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