They think the people whose actions are thought to be rebellious can never be pure and naive.

The above sentence is taken from a writing which was trying to indicate that people can be good inside although their actions may not seem right to other people.

My question is whether the word naive is approval here or not because as I know in some circumstances it can be approval or disapproval. In my own point of view the word is approval here, but I was told by a teacher that naive is disapproval and it is used wrongly here.

2 Answers 2


I agree with both of you!

That is, you are right in thinking that naive is ambivalent—it originally meant either “innocent, unspoiled, artless” and only gradually developed the negative sense “ignorant, simple-minded, unaware of practical realities”. In the sentence you quote naive is clearly intended to be understood in the original positive sense.

But your teacher is also right in discouraging you from the positive use. The positive sense is quite rare in present-day English, found only in fairly formal discourses directed to educated people who can be presumed to be familiar with the historical use of the word. In ordinary discourse naive almost always has the negative sense, and that is the only sense that most people will be familiar with.

Consequently you should avoid using naive unless you are very sure that your audience will not misunderstand you; substitute another word which expresses your meaning unambiguously.


Coupled as it is to pure by and, the word naive in the phrase "pure and naive" takes on the meaning "innocent and inexperienced", which is certainly not harsh disapproval by any means, but neither is it unmitigated approval. It is tantamount to saying "They are not motivated by any malice but they don't really know what they're doing and they don't understand the complexity of the situation."

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