I feel that 'to the untrained eye' is somewhat overused or cliched, and I think that a variation or an equivalent might improve my passage. The relevant portion currently reads:

To the untrained eye, these men looked every bit part of the scenery, but it was in the details that one unearthed the truth, and...

I think a lesser-known construction (an equivalent phrase) could work better, or even a small change, such as changing 'untrained eye' to 'inexperienced eye' would make it more original. Basically, I'm looking for an alternative and would appreciate suggestions.

(If this would be better homed on writing.stackexchange, please let me know and I'll move it.)

Thank you!

  • 1
    'If this would be better homed on writing.stackexchange, please let me know and I'll move it' is a tough call, Heartspring. A request for a synonymous fixed phrase is fine on ELU (subject to reasonable research not being omitted), but one for an acceptable novel rephrase is off-topic as not referencing standard usage. Nov 24 at 16:07
  • @JohnLawler The phrase is not intended as an address to the reader, but instead it refers to a discrimination among observers in general. There is an ambiguity between "you" as "somebody in general" and "you, the reader".
    – LPH
    Nov 25 at 8:50
  • Yes, and excluding any reader from your address is not a normal part of writing. Nov 25 at 17:24
  • Is the word 'eye' mandatory?
    – banuyayi
    Nov 27 at 8:30

2 Answers 2


There is nothing wrong with "to the untrained eye"; nevertheless, one might wish to use synonyms or slight variants of an expression.

As a variant with little difference, "to the uninitiated eye" is usable almost interchangeably, I would think, although it applies more properly to contexts involving a less practical experience. (plenty of examples)

  • to the uninitiated eye

You may wish to have an expression that is more evocative of the analytical qualities of the mind; the same expressions as above with "eye" replaced with "mind" will correspond to this context.

  • to the untrained mind, to the uninitiated mind

You may also want to insist on the natural gift rather than on training; you might then think proper an expression such as "to the unperceptive onlooker".

  • to the unperceptive onlooker/person/observer/masses/public/…

(The Household Economy: Reconsidering The Domestic Mode Of Production - 2019) While the unperceptive onlooker may see a teenage girl going off herding in the morning as someone “tending her family's animals,” the girl herself perceives the flock as made up of individually-owned animals, jointly tended.

  • 1
    We wouldn't say to the uninitiated eye, these men...; we would say to the uninitiated, these men.... We would use uninitiated as a nominalized adjective. Nov 25 at 1:57
  • @TinfoilHat What do you make, then, of the multitude of examples (see answer), among which, to boot, there are a great many of recent origin (21st century)? "To the uninitiated" is a possibility, which I should perhaps have included in my answer; nevertheless, what's been found wanting all of a sudden with "to the uninitiated eye", in particular when it explicits the fact that the matter is a question of visual perception?
    – LPH
    Nov 25 at 8:46
  • The "multitude" is relative. For to the uninitiated, the Corpus of Contemporary American English returns 163 results of which only 4 use uninitiated as an adjective in front of a noun. One of those nouns is eye. You can search other corpora and Google Ngram and even your Google Books and find similar results. It's relatively rare to find uninitiated used as an adjective. Nov 25 at 16:33
  • @TinfoilHat Something has to be wrong with your corpus; In the Google page of a hundred hits referred to in my answer, without scanning the page further than to its middle, I find 45 cases all for the noun "eye", and in all of them the meaning is such as needed to support the answer; furthermore, 20 of them are found after 2000, which shows a regain of interest for this expression in the 21st century (not so much used in the 20th but much used in the 19th). (ref.)
    – LPH
    Nov 25 at 17:57
  • How can there be something "wrong" with a corpus? If you search Google Books for to the uninitiated eye, of course you will find examples. But if you search to the uninitiated, at a glance, how many results do you see where uninitiated is used as an adjective? Nov 25 at 18:49

Guileless (Wiktionary) Free from guile; honest but naive.

To the guileless, these men looked....

Undiscerning (Wiktionary): not discerning[Wiktionary: Of keen insight or good judgement; perceptive].

To the undiscerning eye, these men looked....

Similarly 'unknowing eye', 'unseeing eye' can also be used.

  • +1 for "undiscerning" but -1 for "guileless".
    – LPH
    Nov 27 at 11:53
  • :) will do. I asked in comments to OP, whether 'eye' is mandatory.
    – banuyayi
    Nov 27 at 12:09

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