I need to know whether the bold verbs below can alter the meaning of the following sentence or not (for me they both mean the same and exchangeable at least in this particular example:

  1. I am really grateful to the coach; he overlooked my mistake against the opposing team in the final game.
  2. I am really grateful to the coach; he ignored my mistake against the opposing team in the final game.
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    I don't think this is answerable by a dictionary. These two words are very similar in definition but have different connotations depending on the context. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 9 '16 at 15:01
  • @ColleenV +1 I agree this case is not so obvious – Peter Jan 9 '16 at 18:08
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    There is also intentional overlooking. To be aware of but chose to ignore. See: cronyism. – lurker Jan 9 '16 at 19:55
  • @lurker I don't know what definition of cronyism you're working from, but the one I'm familiar with has nothing to do with overlook or ignore. Cronyism is favoritism shown to friends and family without regard for their qualifications, particularly in political appointments. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 9 '16 at 22:41
  • As in: cronies intentionally overlook their mates' mistakes. I was assuming everyone lived in my brain again. My bad. – lurker Jan 9 '16 at 22:43

Passive ignorance

To overlook is a type of ignorance without purpose, without recollection, without knowing. It is passive Although, to overlook also suggests that the "ignorance" was performed with the eyes, since it is indeed conjoined with the verb to look.

Overlook isn't exactly the opposite of ignore because it is limited to vision. You can overlook:

An answer Signs Places

Therefore, oversight is only passive ignorance using the eyes. But, you cannot overlook a smell, a taste, a feeling, or a sound.

English also has the words oversee and overhear, but neither indicate tru ignorance, but rather happenstance.

So the real "cousin" to ignoring something would be to miss, or to fail to notice, fail to acknowledge

  • They failed to notice the smell of pungent feet in the room

  • We failed to acknowledge that Peter was in pain

  • I missed the chance to hear hummingbird mating call

Each of these suggest an unintended form of ignorance,.. passive ignorance.

Active ignorance

To ignore suggests that someone actively ignored something. It doesn't matter which sense is used.

  • I ignored the smell of horse manure in the background

  • We ignored the stickiness of the change handed to us by that customer.

  • They ignored us yelling at them.

  • You ignored the sight of the carcass on the side of the road.

Each of these suggest that the ignorance was on purpose, it was intended, it was active


Both words have the the same result, there being no reaction by the observer.

To ignore something, is to know it exists but not pay any attention to it.

The people at dinner ignored the child's acting up.

To overlook(verb) something, is to miss it entirely, usually one does not know something existed and is overlooked until it is pointed out later. Overlooked can also have the connotation of ignored. Figuratively, one looks over an object since it is too low and/or out of sight, i.e. a small child (this should not be confused with to take a look over, which is to observe in detail).

Overlook(verb) should not be confused with an overlook(noun), which is a high vantage point from which many things can be seen.

Usually, mistakes should not be ignored, if one finds a mistake it should be pointed out and corrected since mistakes may cause future harm.

Either overlooked or ignored can be used in your sentence, however, to me, overlooked sounds more charitable to the observer.

Your coach ignored what happened, and by doing so, overlooked your mistake.

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