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I don't even know what to Google in order to find the answer to this question.

I'm trying to determine the proper grammar for outdoing someone in a particular area. For instance, in the previous sentence, I comfortably used the word "outdo" as a single word with no hyphen, and the dictionary supports this. However, what about fishing better than someone? Wiktionary believes that "outfish" is a word, but Microsoft Word and other dictionaries disagree. Since in English, unlike in German and other languages, we don't typically mash words together to get a single valid word (at least not without a hyphen), my question is as follows.

Which of the following is the correct way to express fishing better than someone: outfish, out-fish, or out fish?

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Your question is fishy... – ApprenticeHacker Dec 13 '11 at 6:46
"outfish" is listed in Dictionary.com as a related form of the verb, "fish." – user115849 Apr 3 '15 at 2:41
up vote 15 down vote accepted

I would say out-fish. There is no such word as outfish to my knowledge, and to "out fish" would be to expose hidden fishness.

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+1 out-fish works fine in MS Word. – Terry Li Dec 12 '11 at 19:08
Going with out-fish and also laughing out loud at "hidden fishness" being exposed. – Rae Dec 12 '11 at 19:14
Crouching Walrus Hidden Fish – Rei Miyasaka Dec 13 '11 at 6:39
expose hidden fishness... lol. +1 – ApprenticeHacker Dec 13 '11 at 6:47

Out- is a productive prefix, which in my book means you can create new "words" by putting it in front of a wide variety of verbs and nouns. Here, for example, is a piece in the Los Angeles Times writing of Republican presidential nomination candidates trying to out-Reagan Reagan.

I don't think the hyphen is particularly required in more mundane constructions like outfish - I'd only use it in more "exotic" coinages like the one above, or where the lack of a hyphen detracts from ease of reading. It would never be correct to have a space.

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Unrelated to the crux of your answer, but I just wanted to point out that your example source there might not exactly be of the highest English standards. It's referring to President Reagan, but the poster fails to spell it correctly at any point there. It should be out-Reagan Reagan – Dusty Dec 12 '11 at 19:24
+1 This is the best answer so far. It basically expresses what I was trying to in my answer, but better. (It out-answers me?) – alcas Dec 12 '11 at 21:14
@Dusty: Ooops - displayed my non-US credentials there! I guessed someone would be bound to have used the construction in relation to Reagan, but it was actually me who spelt it wrong in my Google search. Luckily (or sadly, depending on your point of view) it was sufficiently common that someone else had made the same mistake. I'll change the link to avoid winding anyone else up. – FumbleFingers Dec 12 '11 at 22:18

Definitely not out fish. Whether you use outfish or out-fish is really a matter of context and personal preference. Out- is a productive prefix in English - meaning that you can attach it to basically any verb to form a meaningful new verb (to out-X someone is to do better than someone at X)

Some out- compounds have been used often enough that they appear in dictionaries (outdo, outrun, etc.) while others (outfish) haven't - but any native English speaker would immediately understand what outfish means, which makes it a "valid word" by my estimation.

Personally, I would probably write outfish most of the time. If it was very formal writing, however, I might write out-fish, to convey my consciousness of the fact that I'm "making up" this compound and that it isn't found pre-formed in the dictionary.

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I disagree that this answer is not expressed as well as the one by FumbleFingers. (I consider them close enough to equal that, given the ability to upvote multiple answers, I can't see upvoting one without upvoting the other.) – John Y Dec 12 '11 at 22:39
I can't agree more about creative neologisms. English is an evolving language that doesn't need dictionaries as aristocratic gatekeepers if meaning is conveyed effectively. – David Rivers Dec 14 '11 at 21:40

In formal writing I would simply avoid using out-fish or outfish. Instead, I would simply go with better at fishing than unless dealing with such well established words as outperform .

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+1 for thinking out of the box. Just don't sacrifice anything natural and simple for something fancy yet contrived. – Leaf Shadow Dec 12 '11 at 19:25

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