Not Surprisingly or Not Surprising – What’s the Difference?

One of the so-called rules of poetry is that good poets should avoid adverbs. Most poets scoff at the notion that poetry has any rules at all, although most would agree that it is better to use a strong verb by itself than to use a weak one with an adverb.

Outside the world of poetry, though, adjectives and adverbs are useful parts of speech. They modify nouns and verbs, respectively, to add clarity and detail to language.

But how does one tell the difference between two similar phrases, like not surprisingly and not surprising? One is an adverb phrase and the other an adjective phrase, but they are so similar that it can be difficult to know the difference.

What is the Difference Between Not Surprisingly and Not Surprising?

In this post, I will compare not surprisingly vs. not surprising. I will use each of these phrases in an example sentence, so you can see it in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that will allow you to choose not surprisingly or not surprising correctly every time.

When to Use Not Surprisingly

not surprisingly versus not surprisingWhat does not surprisingly mean? The phrase not surprisingly is an adverb phrase. It is related to the adverb unsurprisingly, which means the opposite of surprisingly, namely, predictable or expected.

The phrase not surprisingly is much more common than the single-word unsurprisingly, even though they mean the same thing.

Here are a few examples of not surprisingly in a sentence,

  • Not surprisingly, my ex-girlfriend did not respond when I invited her to my birthday party.
  • Not surprisingly, the team began winning more games after its star player recovered from an injury.
  • Not surprisingly, state banks are bitterly opposed by major Wall Street institutions, which pour lobbying money into scuttling public banking legislation wherever it crops up. –LA Times

You can usually tell that a word is an adverb when it ends in -ly. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Italy is a proper noun, not an adverb, and words like afterward and soon are adverbs that do not end in -ly.

When to Use Not Surprising

Definition of not surprising definition of not surprisingly definitionWhat does not surprising mean? Not surprising is an adjective phrase. You can think of not surprising as a version of the adjective unsurprising.

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

Similar to the adverb versions above, not surprising is far more common than unsurprising in modern English.

Below 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 telegraphed its villain’s true identity and motivations since almost the beginning.
  • It’s brazen stuff, but not surprising. In the wake of an economic cataclysm that has left much of the country struggling to feed itself, Maduro’s approval ratings have fallen to 20 percent to 25 percent. –The Washington Post

Adjectives are not as easy to identify as adverbs. There is no single rule that describes how these words look. All adjectives describe nouns, though, so they are easy to spot that way.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define not surprising and define not surprisinglyEven though these phrases are very similar, there is an easy way to remember not surprising vs. not surprisingly.

The adverb phrase not surprisingly ends in the letters -ly, which is the telltale sign that a word or phrase is an adverb. Use this suffix as a reminder of when to use not surprisingly.

If you need an adjective, use not surprising instead.


Is it not surprising or not surprisingly? Not surprising is an adjective phrase that describes something that is predictable or expected. Adjectives modify nouns in sentences.

Not surprisingly is the adverb version of this phrase. It also means predictable or expected, but as an adverb, it modifies verbs instead.

To summarize,

  • Not surprising is an adjective phrase.
  • Not surprisingly is an adverb phrase.