Unaware is an adjective. Unawares is an adverbUnawares may sound like a colloquial variant of unaware, but in fact the word goes back centuries, and every dictionary lists it as an adverb. The -s here is one of the few remnants of a practice in Old and Middle English of creating adverbs with the -s ending. The suffix also lives on in words like towards and afterwards.

Unawares can mean without awareness, but it’s usually used to mean, more specifically, by surprise or unexpectedly. It appears most often in the phrase caught unawares.


But the personal equivalent of an earthquake followed by a nuclear catastrophe always catches us unawares. [Chicago Tribune]

More than 300,000 British savers were caught unawares when Icelandic internet bank Icesave collapsed in 2008. [Telegraph]

He noted that Russia, like the rest of the world, was caught unawares by the upheaval. [Wall Street Journal]

7 thoughts on “Unawares”

  1. I’m a little confused about something. Take this:

    ‘The house fell down around her. Unawares, she continued sleeping.’

    Is that right or should it be changed to to unaware? If it should be changed, how can you modify the sentence so unawares is correct?

    • “Unawares” only works as an adverb. In your sentence, the word is positioned to modify “she,” which would make an an adjective, so the adjective “unaware” would work better in its place. If you wanted to use “unawares” you would have to make sure it applied to the verb phrase “continued sleeping,” and you could do that by making it, “She continued sleeping unawares.”

      • i dont buy “unawares”…it doesnt match adverbial behavior, and even in this example, unawares describes the person , not the sleeping.

        • No, keebali is right. It tells ‘how’ she was sleeping, although it would be an adjective had he written, “Unaware, she continued sleeping” which can be broken down to “She is unaware, she continued sleeping.”


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