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adjective (1)

in·​gen·​u·​ous in-ˈjen-yə-wəs How to pronounce ingenuous (audio)
: showing innocent or childlike simplicity and candidness
her ingenuous thirst for experienceChristopher Rawson
: lacking craft or subtlety
ingenuous in their brutality
obsolete : noble, honorable
ingenuously adverb
ingenuousness noun


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adjective (2)


Did you know?

Ingenuous is most often used to describe someone who has a childlike innocence and openness. It should not be confused with ingenious, which typically describes someone who is unusually inventive or clever, or something made or done in an especially original or clever way. The words look very much alike, but sound different: remember that ingenuous sounds like its linguistic relation genuine, while ingenious sounds like genius—despite the fact that there is no etymological connection between those two. For more on this pair, read on.

Choose the Right Synonym for ingenuous

natural, ingenuous, naive, unsophisticated, artless mean free from pretension or calculation.

natural implies lacking artificiality and self-consciousness and having a spontaneousness suggesting the natural rather than the man-made world.

her unaffected, natural manner

ingenuous implies inability to disguise or conceal one's feelings or intentions.

the ingenuous enthusiasm of children

naive suggests lack of worldly wisdom often connoting credulousness and unchecked innocence.

politically naive

unsophisticated implies a lack of experience and training necessary for social ease and adroitness.

unsophisticated adolescents

artless suggests a naturalness resulting from unawareness of the effect one is producing on others.

artless charm

Examples of ingenuous in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
And while some delusions of the self are less opportunistic and others feel more ingenuous, the tilt of reality to suit ourselves is nonetheless slippery. Megan O’Grady, New York Times, 12 Nov. 2020 All of this feels rather random, rather personal, rather ingenuous. New York Times, 5 Nov. 2021 Jennifer Johnson Cano’s mezzo-soprano was smoothly plangent as Emilia; the tenor Pene Pati was a sweetly ingenuous Cassio. New York Times, 22 May 2022 The underdog pick is Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), an ingenuous arriviste who, long-limbed and blunder-prone, provides much of the show’s comic relief. Naomi Fry, The New Yorker, 1 Nov. 2021 Heathcliff, of course, is the prime example, growing from an ingenuous child into a glowering adult who spins all the considerable evil ever done to him — much of it based on race and class — into justification for his long game of retribution. Laura Collins-Hughes, New York Times, 18 Oct. 2022 His greatest hope for the future, Meghan is a high school senior at a horsy boarding school in the Washington area and possibly the most ingenuous girl since Alice in Wonderland. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 13 Sep. 2022 Colman has become a go-to actor for masking pained personal histories behind either brittle snappishness or bluff affability; Reid’s ingenuous, old-soul charm is a winning foil for that defensive quality. Guy Lodge, Variety, 28 July 2022 Moore, who sings big Verdi roles, isn’t easy to imagine as the ingenuous geisha (who’s supposed to be only 15 years old). Dallas News, 19 Feb. 2022

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

Word History


Adjective (1)

Latin ingenuus native, freeborn, from in- + gignere to beget — more at kin

Adjective (2)

by alteration

First Known Use

Adjective (1)

1588, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Adjective (2)

1588, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ingenuous was in 1588


Dictionary Entries Near ingenuous

Cite this Entry

“Ingenuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: showing innocent or childlike simplicity and straightforwardness
ingenuously adverb
ingenuousness noun

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