I find the use of the word "inspecific" very natural. It makes sense and flows easily in sentences I speak and write (to myself at least). However, upon inspection, it is apparently not a valid English word, instead being nonspecific (A.H.D. 5), unspecific (O.D.O.) or something of that sort.

We use the in- prefix to negate the primary meanings of words very often, for instance in the words "inadequate" and "invariable". I feel like ignoring all of the signs telling me to use "non-specific" instead of "inspecific" and go with what I find right. What about you? Do you find the word "inspecific" right or wrong? Why can't we negate it, like we negate many other words, simply through prefixing an in-?

Also, as a rule of thumb, Latin words usually seem to take the in- prefix when negated, whereas Germanic words seem to take the un- suffix. Variable, adequate and specific have Latin origins according to The Online Etymology Dictionary. Why does specific, a Latin derived word, seem to be an exception?

  • do you mean unspecific?
    – camelbrush
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 3:40
  • 4
    -1 You can use it & people will understand it, but it's not considered a word. Were you to use it in an article for publication in most journals, it would most likely be changed to by the editors or peer reviewers to nonspecific or unspecific. This attitude "I feel like ignoring all of the signs telling me to use 'non-specific' instead of 'inspecific' and go with what I find right" is absurd & arrogant. "Why unspecific and not inspecific?" Because that's the way it is in English: nonspecific and unspecific are what we use. They're idiomatic & accepted. Your rant is risible.
    – user21497
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 3:58
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    Haha somehow I saw this coming, I guess I really am too stupid for this. I just found it an inconsistency that the language doesn't consider it a word and was wondering if there was an actual reason for why that was the case, other than the designers of the language just choosing not to include it. PS: I'll stick to programming :P
    – Bilal Akil
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 5:38
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    There are no "designers of the language". English isn't Perl or Java or C++. It's the language that we Anglophones use to communicate with each other. Like all natural languages, it defines us in one way as members of a tribe. If you want to be a member in good standing of that tribe, you use the language the way everyone you know uses it. For programming language, you do it because the compiler doesn't understand improper terms or syntax. For natural languages, native speakers don't like to hear their language "abused" by other native speakers. Emotions about language run high.
    – user21497
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 7:25
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    @JohnM.Landsberg: I was trying to be funny. It didn't work out too well.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


On the Wiktionary definition of nonspecific, it notes:


unspecific (less common), inspecific (much less common)

The entry for inspecific does include quotations.

Google n-grams shows for nonspecific,unspecific,inspecific that the ratios between them is approximately 1000:100:1 respectively, i.e. for every 1000 uses of the word nonspecific, there is only 1 use of inspecific. This makes it almost unheard of by most people.

As an example, my browser's spellchecker says inspecific is misspelt. So you can use inspecific, but you need to expect that you will be continuously challenged about it. You can avoid being challenged every time by using nonspecific instead, as it is the most common of the three words.


Inspecific is not standard English, meaning English speakers will experience confusion when they encounter it. If confusion is your goal, by all means use it. If your goal is to communicate without causing confusion, use a word which is in wide circulation.

  • This doesn't answer the "why" part of the question.
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 23:53
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    @sumelic the reason, the answer to 'why', is implicit and the same for all questions asked in this manner: because people just don't use it and they use commonly other versions. If the description of the history of the word was requested, that might be what should have been asked.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:32

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