Word Confusion: Nevertheless vs Nonetheless

Dear Copy Bitch: Any thoughts on the use of nevertheless vs. nonetheless?

–Jay S., from an email

Answer: Your email made me pause, Jay (which doesn’t happen too often, let me tell you). I’ve always thought of these two words as being interchangeable. But I decided to research my assumptions because, believe it or not, The Copy Bitch has been wrong before (most notably when it comes to the men I choose to date, but I digress).

I started with Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference (fifth edition). She has a great “word choice” section, but those two words don’t show up. So, I cozied up with Google. The selections I read in my Google search showed that most people tend to agree with my thinking. This is an interesting forum post that goes a little deeper into meaning and usage. I’d use these words sparingly, however, since they have (in my mind) a very formal tone (I prefer conversational tones unless there’s a really good reason to go all formal). I welcome others’ thoughts on this one.

11 replies
  1. Eric C
    Eric C says:

    I just found this blog and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    My opinion, I would never use nonetheless, just because it seems archaic and strange. Nevertheless I would save for grand pronouncements, or for an elevated tone. Like at the end of a diatribe, or something along those lines.

    Reply
  2. TA
    TA says:

    Since I’m antithetical by nature I’ve always preferred “nonetheless” (it’s quantifiable). Archaic, formal, and/or grating I find the use of “nonetheless” nonetheless more enjoyable. :p

    Reply
  3. CLMR
    CLMR says:

    Because “none” refers to a lack of objects, I use “nonetheless” when referring to objects. E.g. We can’t do A because we don’t have B. Nonetheless, we still have C. “Never” refers to time. I use “nevertheless” when the sentence has more to do with events in time. We can’t do A until we have B. Nevertheless, we will do C.
    🙂
    That much attention to detail and formality, however, is rare for me… I usually use them interchangeably.

    Reply
  4. Barry Morse
    Barry Morse says:

    I wondered if Strunk and White might have weighed in on the question. I found what I believe to be an indirect Strunk and White endorsement of “nevertheless” by way of Diana Hacker’s Language Debates:

    http://www.dianahacker.com/bedhandbook6e/subpages/however.html

    Quote
    however at the beginning of a sentence

    Most usage experts think it’s perfectly fine to begin a sentence with the conjunctive adverb however (meaning “nevertheless”). But try telling that to those who grew up with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Strunk and White state their advice unequivocally: “Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is ‘nevertheless’” (48).
    Unquote

    Regarding Strunk and White eschewing the use of the word however at the beginning of a sentence, Hacker disagrees. But that disagreement would be immaterial to the original question. Nevertheless may have been used as early as the 13th century and nonetheless as early as the middle 19th century.

    Reply
  5. bbg
    bbg says:

    How sad! I enjoy using words like nonetheless or nevertheless, I understand they may seem archaic to others because I think of them (and this is my very personal opinion, of course) as “enhancer of the taste” in my writing or conversation, e.g. using your old china for a regular meal, somehow it just tastes and looks better. Comments? 🙂

    Reply

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