Decoding the Distinction: Not Surprisingly vs. Not Surprising in Language Usage

June 18, 2023

Poetry is often associated with a rule that advises against using adverbs, but many poets dismiss the idea that poetry has any rules. However, they generally agree that using a strong verb alone is preferable to using a weak verb with an adverb.

Outside the realm of poetry, adjectives and adverbs serve as useful parts of speech. They modify nouns and verbs, respectively, adding clarity and detail to language.

But how does one distinguish between similar phrases like “not surprisingly” and “not surprising”? While one is an adverb phrase and the other is an adjective phrase, they are so alike that differentiating between them can be challenging.

The Distinction Between “Not Surprisingly” and “Not Surprising”

In this article, I will compare “not surprisingly” and “not surprising.” I will provide example sentences for each phrase to help you understand their usage in context.

Additionally, I will share a helpful mnemonic tool that will enable you to consistently choose between “not surprisingly” and “not surprising” accurately.

Appropriate Usage of “Not Surprisingly”

What does “not surprisingly” mean? It is an adverb phrase that corresponds to the adverb “unsurprisingly.” Both terms convey the opposite of “surprisingly” and imply predictability or expectation.

Although “unsurprisingly” is synonymous with “not surprisingly,” the phrase “not surprisingly” is far more prevalent.

Here are a few examples of “not surprisingly” used in sentences:

  • Not surprisingly, my ex-girlfriend did not respond when I invited her to my birthday party.
  • The team began winning more games after its star player recovered from an injury—not surprisingly.
  • State banks are vehemently opposed by major Wall Street institutions, which invest substantial lobbying funds in obstructing public banking legislation wherever it emerges—not surprisingly. (LA Times)

Typically, words ending in “-ly” indicate adverbs. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, “Italy” is a proper noun, not an adverb, and words such as “afterward” and “soon” are adverbs that do not end in “-ly.”

Proper Usage of “Not Surprising”

What does “not surprising” mean? It is an adjective phrase that can be considered as a variation of the adjective “unsurprising.”

Adjectives modify nouns, and “unsurprising” describes something that is expected or predictable.

Similar to its adverb counterparts mentioned earlier, “not surprising” is more commonly used than “unsurprising” in modern English.

Here are a few example sentences:

  • Jim’s failure to follow through on his promises is not surprising.
  • The movie’s final twist was not surprising; the film had hinted at the true identity and motivations of its villain since the early stages.
  • It’s audacious, but not surprising. After an economic catastrophe that has left much of the country struggling to feed itself, Maduro’s approval ratings have plummeted to 20 to 25 percent. (The Washington Post)

Identifying adjectives is not as straightforward as recognizing adverbs. There is no single rule that governs their appearance. However, all adjectives describe nouns, making them easier to identify in that regard.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Despite the similarities between these phrases, there is a simple way to differentiate between “not surprising” and “not surprisingly.”

The adverb phrase “not surprisingly” ends with the letters “-ly,” which is a distinct characteristic of adverbs. You can use this suffix as a reminder to employ “not surprisingly” when you require an adverb.

For an adjective, opt for “not surprising.”


Should you use “not surprising” or “not surprisingly”? “Not surprising” is an adjective phrase that characterizes something as predictable