A misconception is:

  • a mistaken thought, idea, or notion; a misunderstanding: had many misconceptions about the new tax program. (AHD)
  • Despite the different nuances in meaning the above definition could well refer both to a mistaken concept (a general idea or understanding of something) and a mistaken conception (something conceived in the mind or believed by a group of people; a concept, thought, or belief).

According to etymonline the term misconception dates back to:

  • 1660s, from mis- (1) + conception.

By that time both concept (1550s) and conception (meaning "that which is conceived in the mind" is from 1520s) had been used by more than a century, but conception somehow was chosen to indicate a wrong idea/notion.


Is there a reason for the fact that misconception became a commonly accepted term while misconcept did not. Could it be because conception had been a more popular term in the past for its original meaning "in the womb sense (also with reference to Conception Day in the Church calendar)"?

  • 1
    If misconcept breaks the rules of English as @GregLee suggests, this has never stopped English speakers from doing that many times in the past. But misconceive and misconception are clearly the winners in everyday usage compared to misconcept. Perhaps because misconcept is (or would be) neither clearly a noun or a verb. Certitude trumps ambiguity most times outside of poetry. But 'misconcept' as a word for a wrong-headed 'Concept' or 'general conception' (in the philosophical sense) is still attractive.
    – John Mack
    Oct 10, 2015 at 22:00

2 Answers 2


"misconcept" is not a word. The prefix "mis-" can be added to verbs, but not to nouns, and "concept" is a noun.

Most derivational affixes are restricted to be added to just one part of speech. In the form "misconception", the prefix "mis-" is not added to the noun "conception", but rather to the verb "conceive", then the derived verb "misconceive" is converted to a noun by addition of the "-ion" suffix. The morphological structure of "misconception" is [N [V mis [V conceive] ] ion].

  • Doesn't 'concept' derive from 'conceive as conception? : * from concep-, past participle stem of concipere "to take in" (see conceive).*
    – user66974
    Oct 10, 2015 at 15:04
  • @Josh61 "Concept" and "conception" are both derived from "conceive".
    – Greg Lee
    Oct 10, 2015 at 15:12
  • That is what I am telling you, so form misconceive we could both have misconception and misconcept.
    – user66974
    Oct 10, 2015 at 15:17
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    @Josh61 You mean that since "concept" is from "conceive", it should be possible to derive "misconcept" from "misconceive"? Well, apparently not. Though in defense of this, we do have both "believe"->"belief" and "disbelieve"->"disbelief".
    – Greg Lee
    Oct 10, 2015 at 15:50
  • yes, that's my point, and I think that 'conception' was sort of preferred word for its 'religious' usage. I probably should ask that on the linguistic site.
    – user66974
    Oct 11, 2015 at 6:58

conception and misconception refer to the act of conceiving, or creating, a concept (idea).

concept refers to the idea that this act conceives, that is, to the result of the action of conception.

misconcept would refer to what? An idea that is misconceived, perhaps? That is, if you coin this word it could refer to the idea that is the result of misconception.

It is true that we sometimes think of misconception as the idea that results from the act (anidea that is poorly or incorrectly conceived). But this is, IMO, an abbreviation. Possibly it happens because, unlike the case for conception and concept, we have only one word (no misconcept). (But see also next, about negative statements about conception, which might apply here as well, as misconception is closely related to a negation of conception.)

It is also true that we sometimes think of conception as the idea that results from the act. But, again, IMO this is an abbreviation. And I think that this use is especially for negative and interrogative sentences: You have no conception what she is talking about. Really, such uses are still better thought of as referring to the act of conceiving, IMO.

(And yes, I realize that I'm giving my feeling for what these terms mean, and that this apparently differs from the definition of misconception provided by the OP from the Free Dictionary etc. Downvote, if you like.)

  • 1
    There are different subtle nuances that make the two terms look different, but they are used also as synonyms as dictionaries suggest. I think my issue is more an etymological one rather than a current usage one.
    – user66974
    Oct 10, 2015 at 15:22

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