na·ive or na·ïve (nī-ēv, nä-) also na·if or na·ïf (nī-ēf, nä-)
1. Lacking worldly experience and understanding, especially:
a. Simple and guileless; artless: a child with a naive charm.
b. Unsuspecting or credulous: naive victims of the scam.
2. Showing or characterized by a lack of sophistication and critical judgment: "this extravagance of metaphors, with its naive bombast" (H.L. Mencken).
3. Not having experienced or been subjected to something, as:
a. Not previously subjected to experiments: testing naive mice.
b. Not having previously taken or received a particular drug: patients naive to antipsychotic medication.
One who is artless, credulous, or uncritical.
[French naïve, feminine of naïf, from Old French naif, natural, native, from Latin nātīvus, native, rustic, from nātus, past participle of nāscī, to be born; see genə- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: naive, simple, ingenuous, unsophisticated, natural, unaffected, guileless, artless
These adjectives mean free from guile, cunning, or sham. Naive sometimes connotes a credulity that impedes effective functioning in a practical world: "this naive simple creature, with his straightforward and friendly eyes so eager to believe appearances" (Arnold Bennett).
Simple stresses absence of complexity, artifice, pretentiousness, or dissimulation: "Those of highest worth and breeding are most simple in manner and attire" (Francis Parkman). "Among simple people she had the reputation of being a prodigy of information" (Harriet Beecher Stowe).
Ingenuous denotes childlike directness, simplicity, and innocence; it connotes an inability to mask one's feelings: an ingenuous admission of responsibility. Unsophisticated indicates absence of worldliness: the astonishment of unsophisticated tourists at the tall buildings. Natural stresses spontaneity that is the result of freedom from self-consciousness or inhibitions: "When Kavanagh was present, Alice was happy, but embarrassed; Cecilia, joyous and natural" (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).
Unaffected implies sincerity and lack of affectation: "With men he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please, every feature works" (Jane Austen).
Guileless signifies absence of insidious or treacherous cunning: a guileless, disarming look. Artless stresses absence of plan or purpose and suggests unconcern for or lack of awareness of the reaction produced in others: a child of artless grace and simple goodness.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.