adjective in·noc·u·ous \ i-ˈnä-kyə-wəs \
|Updated on: 12 Aug 2018

Definition of innocuous

1 : producing no injury : harmless
2 : not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility : inoffensive, insipid





innocuous was our Word of the Day on 07/15/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of innocuous in a Sentence

  1. Gossip is a relatively innocuous manifestation; fashioning one's self as eternally battling a white America mired in "racism" is a more noisome one. —John McWhorterWall Street Journal17 Sept. 2003
  2. Small and innocuous looking, the habanero is uncontested as the hottest pepper in the world, the mother of all peppers. —Jim RobbinsSmithsonianJanuary 1992
  3. And there was LeRoy … a somewhat gruesome but innocuous neighborhood dimwit who gave me the creeps when he sat down on the front stoop to listen to a bunch of us talking after school. —Philip RothNew York Times Book Review18 Oct. 1987
  4. The salamander, an innocuous amphibian like a big newt, was also regarded with a mixture of horror and awe. —David AttenboroughThe First Eden1987
  5. He told a few innocuous jokes.

  6. those innocuous lies we must tell every day if society is to remain civil

Recent Examples of innocuous from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'innocuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Look at the Prefix to Define innocuous

Innocuous has harmful roots – it comes to us from the Latin adjective innocuus, which was formed by combining the negative prefix in- with a form of the verb nocēre, meaning "to harm" or "to hurt." In addition, nocēre is related to the truly "harmful" words noxious, nocent, and even nocuous. Innocent is from nocēre as well, although like innocuous it has the in- prefix negating the hurtful possibilities. Innocuous first appeared in print in the early 17th century with the clearly Latin-derived meaning "harmless or causing no injury" (as in "an innocuous gas"). The second sense is a metaphorical extension of the idea of injury, used to indicate that someone or something does not cause hurt feelings, or even strong feelings ("an innocuous book" or "innocuous issues," for example).

Origin and Etymology of innocuous

Latin innocuus, from in- + nocēre — see 1innocent

INNOCUOUS Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of innocuous for English Language Learners

  • : not likely to bother or offend anyone

  • : causing no injury

INNOCUOUS Defined for Kids


adjective in·noc·u·ous \ i-ˈnä-kyə-wəs \

Definition of innocuous for Students

: not harmful
  • innocuous chemicals



Medical Dictionary


adjective in·noc·u·ous \ in-ˈäk-yə-wəs \

medical Definition of innocuous

: producing no injury : not harmful



Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up innocuous? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


subject to rapid or unexpected change

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Eponym Quiz

  • rubens-painting
  • Which is the best synonym of bowdlerize?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!