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Is "overlooked" used properly in the following sentence? If Joe's neighbors live in a higher building than his swimming pool, does the sentence still make sense?

Joe put a roof over his swimming pool so that it might not be overlooked.

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    Technically yes, and you may see this in older texts - in modern practice, no. Usually the word "overlooked" is used to mean "was not noticed" rather than "observe from above". Other possible ways to word the sentence above: "Joe put a roof over his swimming pool to maintain privacy." or "Joe put a roof over his swimming pool to keep others from watching [some activity]."
    – entiat
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 1:25
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    See definition 2a here. @entiat I disagree, it's still in common enough use. It's more often used with a subject ("The chateau overlooks the meadow," "the chateau is overlooked by the tower of the neighboring villa") but I've heard the bare adjective version from the question in real estate TV shows. The M-W definition uses a similar example, though by an author who died in 1978, and Cambridge dictionary illustrates the same use. Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 3:03
  • @AndyBonner I agree that this sense of the verb is still in use, but don't you agree that the writer should probably edit this sentence to avoid the possibility of confusion? Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 3:21
  • I agree with Andy Bonner that the word is still in everyday use. The intended meaning is clear enough. Joe didn't roof his pool to get it noticed! BUT it would be more accurate to say, Joe put a roof over his swimming pool BECAUSE it was overlooked. Roofing the pool doesn't stop it being overlooked. It just stops people seeing in. Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 4:03
  • @OldBrixtonian You've brought up an interesting point which may be embarrassing to lexicographers of Oxford Dictionary, or the online version Lexico. They define "be overlooked" as "(of a place) be open to view and so lack privacy" without reference to relative height of one location to another.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 5:04

1 Answer 1

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After all the comments (and learning something!), I'll start an answer. If you are aware of common usage in another locale, please comment and I'll update this answer.

Answer: It depends on locale.

Britain and (possibly) Canada

The verb to overlook is indeed commonly used mean to observe from above, as formulated in the original question

Joe put a roof over his swimming pool so that it might not be overlooked.

US

The verb to overlook almost always means to fail to notice. For example

The detectives overlooked the obvious clues and the murderer escaped.

There are certain exceptions such as the view from a location

The chateau overlooks the valley.

Thus the sentence from the original question would not be commonly used in the United States. Instead, you find formulations such as

Joe put a roof over his swimming pool to maintain privacy.

Joe put a roof over his swimming pool to keep his neighbors from looking in.

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