Notwithstanding, Can We Withstand Confusion of Meaning?

Developing a rich vocabulary through the reading and writing of English adds color to our thoughts, our speech, and our lives. Through a growing lexicon, we convey and connect to others with clearer intention and meaning using greater precision and eloquence.

We also sharpen our ability to see relationships among words by understanding their roots, parts, associations, and meanings. This then allows us to identify, for example, the difference and the similarity between words such as empathy and apathy (both are related to feeling [-pathy] but opposite [a- means “without”; em- means “in, into, inside”]).

With this premise, we might then deem it simple to look at a word pair such as withstand and notwithstanding and presume both their relation and their contrast. For instance, we might deduce that something notwithstanding is something that does not or is counter to something that withstands.

That’s not really the case, however—even though it sounds easy enough to be true.

We’ll start by looking at each word’s entry at dictionary.com.

Withstand is a verb meaning “to stand or hold out against; resist or oppose, especially successfully.”

Examples
The city council withstood the campaign to overturn the parking ordinance.
So far the tarp is withstanding the torrential downpour on the baseball diamond.

Notwithstanding can function as a preposition (in spite of; without being opposed or prevented by), a conjunction (in spite of the fact that; although), or an adverb (nevertheless, anyway, yet).

Examples
Preposition: Notwithstanding his lack of preparation, he scored an A on the test.
Conjunction: The football team rushed for almost 300 yards,notwithstanding the field was in an especially shoddy condition.
Adverb: They hardly know our qualifications; notwithstanding they hired our firm for the project.

The definitions let us rule out the reflexive assumption that “notwithstanding” relates to “not resisting or opposing.” Rather, notwithstanding provides a milder connotation suggesting “in spite of” or “nevertheless” in the context of a contending force, condition, or circumstance. Separating not and withstanding (or withstand) will, however, recast not as an adverb that negates the verb, establishing a phrase that means “not resisting.”

Example
The makeshift fence is not withstanding the movement of the gathering crowd that wants to get closer to the music festival.

As we continue reading and writing in expanding our communicative skills, we will come across other such instances that prompt further reflection on meaning and nuance. Taking the mental moments to do so will make us even more thoughtful and accurate in our application of all that English offers.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the correct word or phrase in the following sentences.

1. The levee that’s been built will [not withstand / notwithstand] the river’s rising level.

2. [Notwithstanding / Not withstanding] their number of turnovers in the game, they were able to force it into overtime.

3. We will purchase the car you want, [withstanding / notwithstanding] it has more than 200,000 miles on it.

4. I am [withstanding / notwithstanding] the urge to use some of the college fund for a trip to Hawaii.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The levee that’s been built will [not withstand / notwithstand] the river’s rising level.

2. [Notwithstanding / Not withstanding] their number of turnovers in the game, they were able to force it into overtime.

3. We will purchase the car you want, [withstanding /notwithstanding] it has more than 200,000 miles on it.

4. I am [withstanding / notwithstanding] the urge to use some of the college fund for a trip to Hawaii.

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