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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 experience Christopher Rawson
: lacking craft or subtlety
ingenuous in their brutality
obsolete : noble, honorable
ingenuously adverb
ingenuousness noun


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adjective (2)


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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.

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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

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 30 Sep. 2022.

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Kids Definition



in·​gen·​u·​ous in-ˈjen-yə-wəs How to pronounce ingenuous (audio)
: showing innocence and childlike honesty
ingenuously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on ingenuous

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