What's the difference between "reckon without" and "not reckon with"? Are they interchangeable?


He had not reckoned with the fact that the second charge of canister could not be fired.

Can I also say...

He reckon without the fact that the second charge of canister could not be fired.

Another example:

The bully reckoned without John's big brother.

Can I say...

The bully did not reckoned with John's big brother.

  • Phrasal verb reckon without something : to fail to think about something when you are making plans and therefore not be prepared to deal with it. reckon : to think or believe. reckon with someone/something : to deal with a difficult or powerful person or thing
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:22
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    I reckon they are interchangeable (with the corrections mentioned by David in his answer). Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:25
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    @Lambie Take it up with J.G. Farrell, who wrote the sentence in The Siege of Krishnapur. In any case, it seems clear enough in context: it is a charge, i.e. a load, of the kind of shot called "canister". No different in structure than "a glass of red".
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:49
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    @stangdon I am so glad it is so clear to you. The OP should have given the book. It is not up to us to do the research.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 18:35
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    @Lambie "charge of canister" is a term very familiar to anyone who has read histories or historical novels about the period of black-powder warfare, say from 1600 to 1850. Canister was a collection of small musket balls enclosed in a thin metal case, and shot out of a cannon, turning the cannon into a sort of giant shotgun. See sense 2 in merriam-webster.com/dictionary/canister for a start. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 1:34

2 Answers 2


(1) He had not reckoned with X

means that he has not considered X, or had not taken X into account. It could also be said "He had not taken X into his reckoning./"

(2) He had reckoned without X.

Sentence (2) has much the same meaning as sentence (1). The difference is one of style. Not that in both cases the past participle "reckoned" is used.

There are some problems with some of the variations suggested in the question.

(3) He reckon without the fact that the second charge of canister could not be fired. Red X, showing an incorrect form

Sentence (3) should use "reckoned", not "reckon"

(4) The bully did not reckoned with John's big brother. Red X, showing an incorrect form

Because sentence (4) uses the "did not" construction it should use "reckon" not "reckoned". Or one could convert it to sentence (4A) using "had not".

(4A) The bully had not reckoned with John's big brother. Green check mark, showing a valid form

Google Results

This Google Ngram shows that "reckon with" is significantly more common than "reckon without" (in the Google corpus), but that phrase is in turn rather more common than "didn't reckon with"

Google books shows "reckon without" to be present in such publications as:

  • Living without Lucy by GILLIAN OGILVIE 2012 (Page 95: "Rosalind Pearson always took care to keep her nasty little habits out of sight of authority. But she reckoned without me. Just as Zelma had reckoned without Frances.) This appears to be a work of contemporary fiction.

  • Beyond My Expectation: A Personal Chronicle by Guy Redvers Lyle (ISBN: 9780810814264; 1981) (Page 213: "When we assured them that we knew no one in Brooklyn since the mayor went to jail, they peremptorily cut off our phone. But they reckoned without our landlady, who immediately came to the rescue) This appears to be autobiography.

  • To Life by Elmer Gertz (ISBN: 9780070231603; 1974) - (Page 52: "If I thought that arguing my demurrer in the absence of my opponent would be easy, I reckoned without Judge Barnes. He became my opponent.") Appears to be the autobiography of a well-known US lawyer.

  • Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases - (Page 225:"1775 GWashington in Naval Documents 2.930 : 'I reckoned without my Host.'") This is obviously showing older usage.

  • Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene · 1992, but originally dating from 1936 (Page 244): "But it has reckoned without its host. This is the time too many when the pitcher goes to the well and is broken. The last straw that breaks the camel's back" Seems to be autobiographical.

  • Home Without a Homeland by Nora Huppert 2011 (Page 209: "The authorities had reckoned without the resourcefulness and resilience of their charges, who immediately set about organising meal servers and cleaning squads for the latrines). This appears to be the autobiography of a Holocaust survivor.

  • Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien (ISBN: 9789020037685; 2016) (The rational part of him reckoned without Christina, whose intention it was to give him in this love only that which he truly wanted, and not one iota more.") This appears to be a historical novel with a Victorian setting.

  • Without a Song by Janet Logan · (ISBN: 9781480843837; 2017) ("My parents never mentioned the crime in front of me, no doubt afraid it would upset me, but they reckoned without my friends whose parents were not so vigilant.) A family memoir published recently, covering events starting in the 1920s.

  • Europe Without Baedeker: Sketches Among the Ruins of Italy by Edmund Wilson (ISBN: 9780374600273; 2019, originally 1947) ("But he had reckoned without Mattie.) Travel diary and accounts of post-WWII Europe by a very noted writer.

  • Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer (ISBN: 9780307271006; 2011) (Page 121: The show folk had reckoned without Thomas's gift for stagemanaging.")

  • No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu (ISBN: 9780385496902; 2009 (Page 248: "In the past, Mr. Botha had got his way through his obduracy and irascibility. Nobody had dared cross swords with him. He thought the same rules would apply but he had reckoned without the fact that this mercifully is a moral universe.) Report of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

  • Sea-changes: Melville - Forster - Britten: The Story of Billy Budd and its Operatic Adaptation by Hanna Rochlitz · 2012 (Page 512: "*You have reckoned without me. Light has been granted to me, and you shall fail. (BPL A62:114) ) Dialog, quoted in a work of literary criticism.

  • Communication: Ethical and Moral Issues by Lee Thayer (ISBN: 9781317367079; 2015 (originally 1974)) ("He reckoned without the very capacity that enabled him to understand and call attention to the dismal course of the economy as then understood. He reckoned without man's ability objectively to reflect upon his own situation") Scholarly non-fiction.

  • For Complete Master Over Written & Spoken English Phrasal Verbs by JK Arora · 2018 (Page 232: "The organizers of the garden party had clearly reckoned without the possibility of a freak thunderstorm. ... He reckoned without their interference.) Language instruction.

  • Viewpoints on Education in Sri Lanka by W. L. A. Don Peter 1987 (Page 18: "Talleyrand, of course, reckoned without Ceylon.") Non-fiction.

  • The Gatekeeper: A Memoir by Terry Eagleton (ISBN: 9781466852440; 2013) - (Page 126: "But I had reckoned without the degree ceremony, where his role was to check that we candidates for graduation were properly attired in our gowns, black suits and white bow ties.") Memoir by "Oxford professor, best-selling author, preeminent literary critic, playwright, screenwriter, and novelist, Terry Eagleton"

  • The German Lesson by Siegfried Lenz (ISBN: 9780809049073; 1986) (Page 436: He was about to launch into another speech, but he had reckoned without me, in fact I dare say I'd reckoned without myself , for suddenly I heard myself saying aloud : 'That's all very well , that's all quite amusing...'*")

  • Cricket's Strangest Matches: Extraordinary but true stories by Andrew Ward (ISBN: 9781861052933; 2016) ("Most neutrals, however, reckoned without the poor start to Australia's second innings.") Sports history

  • Tristana by Benito Perez Galdos · 2014 (Page 133: "She tried to escape me, she tried to fly, but reckoned without her fate, which allows her no flutterings, no flittings; she reckoned without God, who is devoted to me—although quite why I have no idea—and brings her to me.") Historical novel, set in the 1890s.

  • My Sweetheart's House: Memories, Fictions by Robert Drake (ISBN: 9780865544376; 1993) (Page 14: "But that's where he had reckoned without her sharpness and her wit, indeed had simply reckoned without her." ) Autobiography.

  • The Pathway of Peace: An Interpretation of Some British-American Crises by Robert McElroy (ISBN: 9781107646971; 2014) (Page 175: "In society, men have reckoned without their hosts, and without disaster: but no American Chief Executive has ever safely reckoned without the Senate in matters of foreign affairs.") Non-fiction

Perhaps that sample of 21 publications will establish that the phrase "reckon without" and its variant forms is used in a variety of registers and works, not just historical novels.

  • @Astralbee Would you like to reconsider your opinion in light of the evidence I have included? Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 1:24
  • Not really, I've moved on from this question and from people who use comments to tear down instead of to help improve them, which is the site's directive for comments.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 8:30
  • Your extensive list shows examples of reckoned without whereas you only mention reckon without. Was this deliberate or a slip up? In any case, here is an Ngram which also includes do / does not reckon without
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 0:41
  • @MARI-lOU A The google books query associated with the Ngram I linked returned both, , and the same logical argument applies to both. Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 1:10
  • Stronger evidence that shows "reckon without something" is an established phrasal verb Cambridge Dict and Collins: I thought that it would take a day to reach Chengdu but I had reckoned without landslides
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 1:11

To 'reckon with' is an idiomatic verb phrase meaning "to deal with", or "to take into account".

The most common negation of this is to say that someone "did not reckon with" something, but evidently, there is some use of 'reckoned without'. I have never personally heard it, and while there are some recent uses of it to be found in Google books, they mostly seem to be new texts using older language such as historical fiction.

One key usage of 'reckon with' is to imply something or someone's formidability or immovability, ie "it is a force to be reckoned with". It would be absolute nonsense to say that you could 'reckon without' something that demanded you deal with it. You could only deal with it or avoid it entirely, and that is one key reason why "did not reckon with" is the more common negation.

I would encourage you to ignore answers that go way beyond the normal amount of quotations in order to try and convince you of the idiomacy of a phrase. Quotations from literature do not prove that something is used in everyday speech; in fact, many writers choose unusual or archaic constructions to make readers stop and think more about the material. My answer is that your suggestion is far less idiomatic, not incorrect. You are free to use it, but it might get you some funny looks in everyday speech and even funnier looks if you demand they look at your 21 Google Books references to prove you are right.

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    -1 "Reckoned without" can be and indeed is also used, if less often than "reckoned with" Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:05
  • See added citations in my answer. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 1:36
  • If, as you imply, Google Ngram is an unreliable tool which we should not quote from. What evidence can you provide that shows "do/does/did not reckon with" is more commonly used (in speech or in print) than "reckon(ed) without"? How can a non-native speaker know which form is more common or preferable in formal writing?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 1:00
  • reckon without something We'd expected a two-hour drive but had reckoned without the rain. Cambridge Dictionary
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 1:04

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