Note or Notice

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A reader wonders if there is a significant difference of connotation between the verbs “to note” and “to notice.” The question arose as he tried to decide between the following sentences to express the inner dialogue of a character:

Rory noted that the CEO never asked for details.
Rory noticed that the CEO never asked for details.

Note, as both noun and verb, has been in the language since the Middle Ages. The earliest meaning of the noun was “a sign or symbol used in writing.” An early meaning of “to note” was “to put down a mark.” Eventually, the verb acquired additional meanings such as “to observe, to take notice of, to consider or study carefully.” Current usage includes these meanings as well as others, such as “to become aware of,” “to be struck by,” and “to put down in writing.”

Notice in the sense of “to give notice of something” existed in the 15th century, but notice as a verb to mean “to take notice” didn’t come along until the 17th century, at which time it was rejected as an unnecessary Scotticism or Americanism for the phrase “to take notice.” The 1763 Universal Dictionary of the English Language included this caveat: “Notice should not be used as a verb.” Writing a little later (1789), another commentator observed that some English writers were using notice as a verb, but that it was “better” to avoid it.

In regard to the reader’s question, I can offer only a personal reaction to the difference between the two sentences:

Rory noted that the CEO never asked for details.
Rory noticed that the CEO never asked for details.

To me, the use of noted in the first sentence suggests that Rory is keeping track of the CEO’s behavior for some purpose, whereas noticed implies that Rory has merely observed the behavior in passing and is not trying to discern any particular significance in it.

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3 thoughts on “Note or Notice”

  1. Agree with your summation at the end. Thank goodness you have the ability to put things into words that for me are so hard to pin down! I think “note” is a more active word, denotes intention as you said, implying that there is some import to what was noted, and might even include saying or writing something about it besides just taking a mental note. “Notice” seems a bit more passive and even fleeting, with or without any lasting import. Like the difference between a look and a glance 🙂

  2. My personal interest in the difference between note and notice led me to this site, and after seeing and agreeing with the explanation and above comment, it occurred to me that such nuances matched my own experiences, and how the language flows and grows to create these situations. Even more amazing is how that portion of the population that cares about such things (as we do) seem to come to such close agreement with such little actual effort to achieve it.

  3. Yes, but what about the imperative (in formal writing)? Is there a difference between “Notice that the present context includes…” and “Note that the present context includes…”?

    I suppose that the original distinction, that “to note” indicates a stronger intent or purpose is present and “notice” is more of a casual observation, might be valid: something the author directs me to notice is of interest — at least for the purposes of the discussion being presented — but something he or she directs me to note, is something I should truly “take note of”.

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