Please explain 'notwithstanding', only in terms of the adverb 'not' and the root verb 'withstand'.

[ Grammarist: ] Notwithstanding is mainly a preposition meaning in spite of. Most dictionaries also list it as an adverb meaning nevertheless, but this sense is rarely used in modern English. Notwithstanding is always one word, and this has been the standard spelling for many centuries.

Although notwithstanding usually means exactly the same as in spite of, it is often positioned differently. In spite of always comes before its object—e.g., “In spite of your feedback, I’m not changing anything.” But notwithstanding is often postpositive, meaning it comes after its object—e.g., “Your feedback notwithstanding, I’m not changing anything.” Of course, it can come before its object as well—e.g., “Notwithstanding your feedback, I’m not changing anything.”

This answer explains: 'notwithstanding' etymologically signifies 'not standing against' or 'can't withstand'. Then I intuited notwithstanding's signification to vary by position:

  1. Notwithstanding X, Y (happens) = Can't withstand X, Y. = Y, can't withstand X.
  2. X notwithstanding, Y. = X can't withstand, Y.

But 1 is wrong, because 1 signifies the same as 2. So what is wrong with my intuition?

2 Answers 2


First of all, notwithstanding is a literary or legal term that doesn't enter into the spoken language much, so you can practically depend on its having weird syntax.

Second, notwithstanding is a transparent polymorphemic word [not- [[with- stand] -ing]] based on the present participle of the verb withstand; it's treated as a verb in this word by using not- instead of un- as the negative prefix.

Third, the etymology of this particular with- prefix does not come from the preposition with meaning 'together', but rather from a different preposition we no longer have in English that meant 'against' -- pretty much the opposite of 'with'. German still has that preposition (wider 'against', which takes an Accusative object), and it also has the verb widerstehen 'to resist, withstand', formed with the German verb stehen 'stand'.

Fourth, the noun phrase that's marked by notwithstanding in either position functions as the subject of notwithstanding. I.e, if the sentence is

  • *X notwithstanding, Y,

then X is the subject that did not stand against (and thus disqualify) Y, and therefore X can be ignored from now on.

Finally, a word as big and transparent as notwithstanding is likely to become an adverb indicating the importance of a particular piece of evidence, and like most adverbs, its position is subject to the whims of the speaker and can certainly modify a verb phrase.

To answer the presenting question, no, there's no consistent difference between the phrases

  • Notwithstanding X,


  • X notwithstanding.

(both of which can occur at either the beginning or the end of a sentence)


Perhaps, in BOTH 1 and 2 , Y is the thing that fails to withstand ( Y being the ' implicit subject ' of the phrases containing the word ' notwithstanding ' as well as the ' explicit subject ' of the main clauses ) and the positioning makes no difference to that fact . So there's no difference in meaning in REALITY and both actually mean ' Y can't withstand X ' . If your intuition is therefore to be considered erroneous , might it be because the word order in 2 erroneously suggests to your intuition that X is the subject ( because subjects are usually in first position ) and that your intuition is therefore labouring under a delusion ?

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