Covert - overt

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The two adjectives covert and overt are connected in meaning (they are opposites) and in appearance - they look the same. In traditional British academic English, they are different in pronunciation, although this may be changing.

  • overt is always pronounced like the word over (+ '-t-'), except that the stress is on the second syllable.
  • covert is traditionally pronounced in the same way as cover, to match lover - with the extra '-t-'. The stress is on the first syllable.
Some speakers pronounce covert in the same way as overt. This is the normal pronunciation in the USA; it is still only the minority pronunciation in British English. LPD reports that rather more than half of a British sample in 1998, and only about 10% of an American sample in 1993, say covert in the same way as 'cover'. This is the only pronunciation recorded in OED.

Overt means 'open', 'obvious' or 'on the surface'. The opposite adjective, covert, means 'hidden', 'concealed' or 'below the surface'. Both are used figuratively, mostly about people or organisations and their motives. Both also have technical meanings in Law.

There is a noun covert (always pronounced in the traditional British way) which means a refuge, usually with trees, left in the countryside for wild animals and birds. The noun overt is obsolete, and was always rare: it meant 'an opening'.

You may also want to see covet.