Unforeseen – Concept, origin, uses and what is improvised

We explain what an unforeseen event is, the origin of the term and in which areas it is used. Also, differences between unforeseen and improvised.

The unforeseen is what we have not been able to anticipate.

What is an unforeseen?

When we use the word unforeseen, we can do it in two different senses that share, however, the root of its meaning. On the one hand, we use it as a noun, to refer to a situation that had not been foreseen, that is, that takes by surprise: “To get home we had to overcome various unforeseen events.”

On the other hand, we also use it as an adjective, to point precisely the nature of surprise or unpredictability in an object, a situation or a person: “That night we had unexpected visitors” or “the police must face an unforeseen demonstration.”

In both cases, the word refers to what is impossible to foresee, something that is evident in its etymological origin, the union of Latin voices. im- (negation prefix), pre- (“Before”) and visitus (a form of the verb vedere, “watch”). So the unforeseen is that which we have not been able to anticipate, that in a figurative sense we could not see before it was presented (anticipated).

The use of this word is common in areas that require planning, that is, to anticipate expenses, movements or other people’s decisions, such as administration and accounting (“unforeseen expenses”), sports (“unforeseen plays”) or meteorology (“unforeseen rains”), to cite just a few examples.

The words sudden, surprising, unusual or unpredictable would therefore be synonymous with unforeseen.

Unforeseen or improvised?

These two words are essentially synonyms, since both refer to what cannot be foreseen; but in the case of unforeseen it is possible that we use it as an adjective or as a noun, as we have seen previously, while improvised operates solely as an adjective.

Thus, we can say that “we have had to face many unforeseen events in the race” or that “we have had to face many improvised situations in the race” (note that we have had to incorporate a noun in the second case).

Another use that should be clarified is that of the phrase “unexpectedly”, which has the same sense of unforeseen or improvised, that is, something that happened unexpectedly (for example: “the director arrived at the building unexpectedly”. In this case, the phrase always functions as an adverb, and should not be confused with the forms “unexpectedly” or “unexpectedly”, which are not accepted in the cultured use of the language.