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TWTS: In case you were unaware of "unawares"

Were you aware that "unawares" is a thing people say? 

Maybe you've seen it recently it in relation to COVID-19 – things like "The governor's announcement caught some people unawares," and "We have no excuse to be caught unawares in an outbreak.

We wanted to know, where did that "s" come from?

Short answer, that "s" has been there for a really long time.

"Unaware" and "unawares" have actually been sitting next to each other since the 16th century. Early on, they were both adverbs. The "s" is a construction known in English as the adverbial genitive – it's the same "s" we see in words like "always" and "afterwards."

As an adverb, "unawares" could mean a couple of different things. It could mean "without being aware," as in "He fell unawares into error."

"Unawares" could also mean "without being noticed." The Oxford English Dictionary gives this example: "Hours might have passed, unnumbered and unawares."

"Unawares" is often found with "take" or "catch." This usage goes all the way back to Shakespeare. Today, you'll find "unawares" as an adverb and "unaware" as an adjective.

This week also seemed like a good time to also take a look at "beside" and "besides." To hear our discussion, listen to the audio above.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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