in·​ad·​ver·​tent ˌi-nəd-ˈvər-tᵊnt How to pronounce inadvertent (audio)
: unintentional
an inadvertent omission
: not focusing the mind on a matter : inattentive
inadvertently adverb

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The Formation of Inadvertent

It may look innocent, but inadvertent belongs to a class of words that provoke anger in many people who care about language – to wit, the back-formation. Bucking the usual trend in which longer words are formed from shorter ones by the addition of an affix (for example, superficiality from superficial), back-formations are created by clipping off a piece of a longer word; in this case, inadvertent was back-formed from inadvertence or inadvertency. A fair number of these words populate English, including brainwash (from brainwashing), complicit (from complicity), escalate (from escalator), and televise (from television). Certain back-formations, such as liaise (which comes from liaison) rub some people the wrong way. While they are under no obligation to accept liaise, there is nothing inherently wrong with back-formations; they are just another way our language has of creating new words.

Examples of inadvertent in a Sentence

an inadvertent encounter with a rattlesnake in the brush
Recent Examples on the Web In her confusion, the student made an inadvertent mistake and the system canceled her case number. Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, 12 Feb. 2024 As Ward points out, one inadvertent result of the conflicts was that the public was used to hearing news from lands once considered intimidatingly remote, setting the stage for this first-class adventure story, which captured the imagination of people the world over. Chris Wheatley, Longreads, 18 Jan. 2024 The inadvertent construction delay is an inconvenience that could cost the city handsomely. Jennifer Van Grove, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Feb. 2024 Analysts expect Beijing to express its displeasure by stepping up displays of its military muscle and economic leverage, which might demonstrate its resolve but add to the risk of an inadvertent clash that could spiral out of control. Stephanie Yang, Los Angeles Times, 13 Jan. 2024 So is George Wolfe’s inadvertent civil-rights-era comedy Rustin. Armond White, National Review, 5 Jan. 2024 The inadvertent result: a dearth of qualified people willing to join the military. Juan Quiroz, Foreign Affairs, 5 Jan. 2024 In the end, though, what stuck with me wasn’t his discussion of his amazing craft, nor his inadvertent hint of where his career would eventually go. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 13 Dec. 2023 Gensler in his public comments has mused about potential harms that could emerge from the financial industry’s growing adoption of AI, from inadvertent bias and conflicts of interest to meltdown scenarios. Richard Vanderford, WSJ, 10 Dec. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'inadvertent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


back-formation from inadvertence

First Known Use

1653, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of inadvertent was in 1653

Dictionary Entries Near inadvertent

Cite this Entry

“Inadvertent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


in·​ad·​ver·​tent ˌin-əd-ˈvərt-ᵊnt How to pronounce inadvertent (audio)
: not paying attention : inattentive
: not meant, sought, or intended : unintentional
an inadvertent violation of the law
inadvertently adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on inadvertent

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