Observant or blissfully unaware? (Noticing and not noticing things)


Besim Mazhiqi / Moment / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

Are you observant? (Do you usually notice what’s happening around you?) This week we’re thinking about words and phrases in this area.

A really useful word is the verb spot. If you spot something or someone that interests you, you notice them, often when you are trying to see them: I spotted Tom in the crowd. / Police spotted him leaving the building.

A more formal way to say ‘notice’ is observe: She observed a look of anxiety on her mother’s face. Perceive is another formal synonym.  If you perceive something such as an emotion or a quality, you notice it: I perceived a note of unhappiness in his voice.

Other verbs are used specifically for noticing things that are not obvious. For example, to detect an emotion or a quality is to notice it, even though it is partly hidden: I thought I detected a note of sadness in her voice. If you pick up on something, you notice a detail that other people do not notice: If I express even the slightest degree of irritation, Maya always picks up on it.

A person who notices everything, even things that are hard to see, may be said to be hawk-eyed or eagle-eyed: A hawk-eyed neighbour noticed the man leaving the house and grew suspicious. / An eagle-eyed editor had already noticed the error. An idiom related to noticing things is to have eyes in the back of your head. Someone who has eyes in the back of their head sees everything that is happening around them, especially any bad or dangerous things that are taking place: You need to have eyes in the back of your head when you have a three-year-old!

And what about not noticing things? You might describe yourself as being unaware of something: If Sophie was upset by this, I was unaware of it. If you are unaware of something bad, you might use the phrase blissfully unaware: Tom and Anna weren’t getting on at all, and the whole time I was blissfully unaware of the situation. If you do not notice something, you may say it passes you by: Apparently, some people were very unhappy about the plans but that all passed me by. You might also use the phrase to go unnoticed. If an action goes unnoticed, it is not noticed by anyone: He did so much to help the organisation and I’m afraid it went completely unnoticed.

Someone who generally notices very little is unobservant: I have no idea what he was wearing but then, I’m fairly unobservant. Slightly stronger is the adjective oblivious. Someone who is oblivious does not notice anything that is happening around them: George, of course, was completely oblivious to what was going on.

27 thoughts on “Observant or blissfully unaware? (Noticing and not noticing things)

  1. Vero González

    Thanks, Kate, for this article!
    I’ve become a big fan of this blog because it provides very useful and detailed information.
    And as if that were not enough, your explanations are very didactic.
    Looking forward to your next post.


    Observation mainly involves mainly one sense of body – mainly visual . What is seen is observed. But perception involves multiple senses including visual, hearing and mental imagination. Thus, brain is a major player in perceiving things in nature

    1. #AlwaysHumble

      Yes I agree with this comment. A peraon cqn be very observant (Visually) about a particular situation but if thier perseption is off, it can greatly affect thier observation. Perception and observation go hand in hand. As well as not one person in the world will have the same perception as the next Guy. Theres is “Reality” then there is an individual persons reality, of which, again, is never the same as Guy next to him/ her.

  3. John

    This is of great help Kate. It is really informative and helpful in that the explanations and sample sentences you provide are usually succinct and therefore to the point.
    I am already one of your feverish followers. I can’t wait for your next post.




    Articles like this should be included in the course work to make learners pick on synonymous words. A very good one. Thumbs up Kate

  5. Marisela

    I always enjoy Kate’s post, this is no exception. I specially remembered the expression Pass someone by, it brings back memories of one music of UB40 “Don’t let it pass you by”.

  6. Anastasia T

    Loved it. Lucky to stumble across this article. With no obtrusive effort, i.e. unobtrusively, everything was made clear! Thanks

  7. H Harrison

    A very good friend of mine used to have a cardboard box in her dining room in the run up to Christmas. It had her sister’s address on it. But inside were the presents for her own children. They never looked inside. Therefore as the saying goes.’ They were hidden in plain sight!

  8. Michael J. Raspanti

    I thought this might be boring at first, but I stayed with it and found it to be very interesting. Thanks!

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