This good answer ended up with a lot of comments about whether the phrase is "close-minded" or "closed-minded." Since this debate seems to have reasonable arguments on both sides, I thought a new question would be prudent.

Personally, I think it is close-minded, the opposite of open-minded, and that both of these (open and close) use the intransitive forms of these verbs. In another words, I think the mind opens or the mind closes, as opposed to the mind being opened or closed.

But I thought the comments raised some interesting points about the word formation, and I may have to reconsider my opinion.

Is it "close-minded" or "closed-minded"?

EDIT: The NGrams are nice to demonstrate usage, but what I would like to know is more along the lines of why rather than which.

  • I'm not going to spend ages counting the numbers, but my impression is that if you compare usage in, say 1970 against 2000, you'll see a preponderance of academic/clinical sources for closed-minded in the 70's that's not really there 30 years later. I think that supports my (admittedly suppositional) why. Jun 7, 2011 at 18:47
  • Would you believe there's a Facebook discussion on this? Jun 8, 2011 at 3:28

5 Answers 5


Close-minded was first, but closed-minded is dominant:


Here's the earliest close-minded reference I can find from a Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China, by Clarke Abel, 1818:


I found closed minded back to 1913 in The Century Magazine:


After considering @FumbleFingers' comments here and his subsequent answer, I have to agree that most of the earlier close-minded references found through Google Books (including the one above) are using close |kloʊs| in this sense (from NOAD):

• not willing to give away money or information; secretive : you're very close about your work, aren't you?

This is also proven by this definition of uncommunicative from John Craig's A New Universal Etymological Technological, and Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language, 1859:


It seems the phrase was once a common description for someone who "kept their own counsel"—usually used as a derogative, but sometimes as a compliment.

However, I did find this earlier use of close-minded specifically to mean the opposite of open-minded from an 1898 issue of The Outlook:


I also found evidence of a shift towards this sense of close-minded in other writings by the early 1900s. So, to conclude, I think the only thing new about the confusion evident by the 1960s was the frequency of the two terms in print. I realize this may not ultimately answer the question, which is correct, but the timeline seems significant to me.

  • 1
    But which is correct?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 7, 2011 at 17:51
  • 2
    I think that NGram may be a bit misleading simply because of the time-frame. Neither variant really existed until the underlying concept suddenly shot to prominence in the mid-60's ("flower-power" and all that). Graphing just 1960-2000 makes it easier to see that initially 'specialist writing' massively favoured closed-minded as the more 'accurate, formal' term. I imagine over following decades less sophisticated speakers are progressively steering things towards close-minded because the doubled-up past tense sounds awkward to a layman. Jun 7, 2011 at 17:58
  • 4
    ...also, it's not really true that close-minded was first. I think all occurences before the 60's will relate to close as in guarded, not outgoing, reticent, rather than not open to new ideas, which is the meaning we're discuussing. Jun 7, 2011 at 18:01
  • @Fumble: So you think my first clip would be close as in 'Close to the chest' or 'Close to the vest'? Jun 7, 2011 at 18:31
  • 1
    @Kit: Finally got to it: Etymology of close |kləʊz| (klōz) & close |kləʊs| (klōs) Jun 22, 2011 at 3:30

I understand closed-minded to be a description of mentality, without reference to any past or future changes in mentality. That is, in contrast to the argument made in the question, I think the mind is open or the mind is closed. If your mind is closed, you can open it, and then it will be open. Conversely, if your mind is open, your dealings with the interminable idiocy of modern life may close it, and then it will be closed.

I would understand close-minded to be a minor mistake or valid but uncommon* variant on closed-minded. So unless the context made me re-evaluate it I would simply assume the intended meaning was the same.

If I wished to refer to a change in mentality I would use a more explicit form.

Having said all that, I think your argument for close-minded makes perfect sense; I just don't hold to its central premise. We may have a different understanding of the terms themselves, but I think it's at least as likely that we simply have a different understanding of the mind.

(*) Note that there seems to be a difference in frequency of use between British and American English—as a Brit I rarely, if ever, see close-minded.

  • Thanks for posting this answer, @John. It is sound reasoning. While this difference may well be rooted in differences between BrE and AmE, it looks as though not only am I on the wrong side of usage, but may also (gulp!) be on the wrong side semantically as well.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 8, 2011 at 11:17
  • Close-minded makes no syntactical sense because it is used as in "He won't go along, he's too closed-minded." He is not he does.
    – Wayne
    Jun 8, 2011 at 16:18
  • The difference in Google NGrams between American and British bears this our strikingly. There are no hits for 'close minded' in BrE.
    – Mitch
    Jun 8, 2011 at 16:32

I'm not sure it makes too much sense to ask which version is 'correct' here, but let's just have a closer look at what's going on...

First, here's my NGramlink

There are a very few earlier uses, but they're mostly for close-minded in the sense of reticent, unforthcoming, rather than unreceptive to new ideas which we're interested in here.

The new usage suddenly started appearing in the mid-60's, when psychologists and 'pop science' authors in the "flower power" era had more need to reference this newly-interesting phenomenon.

It's my opinion that closed-minded was the original term used by those specialists and fellow-travellers, because semantically it fitted the bill better - and avoided confusion with the rare earlier usage. But over decades the term has spread to more general use, and laymen instinctively don't much like the repetition of past-tense suffixes.

I also suspect that psychologists in general may tend to have abandonned the term in favour of more abstruse 'medicalese', which would account for the rather odd graph shape. Closed-minded will probably die off in future decades, but it will stagger on for a while on the back of a few closed-minded psychologists, and a few laymen still reading old books.

TLDR - If you want to ride the wave of the populist future, go for close-minded. If you want to be accurate, buy a medical/psychiatric dictionary and use whatever words they do now.

  • @Callithumpian: Thanks for that edit! My very first attempt to use TLDR having only recently discovered it, and I can't even spell it right! Perhaps I should change my handle to Eponymous :-) Jun 7, 2011 at 19:13
  • @Fumble: No problem. I've yet to use it myself, but I'm working on an edit to my answer that will warrant it! Jun 7, 2011 at 20:08
  • I'd like to note that I am a definitely a layman in this context, but I would always prefer the semantic accuracy of 'closed-minded'. Also, 'closed-minded' seems to be increasing in use at a similar rate to 'close-minded' in the last 15-20 years of your graph, so I wouldn't be so sure it'll be overtaken. Jun 7, 2011 at 21:46
  • 1
    @John: You can always bypass that 40-book minimum by just selecting "[more->]books" from the standard Google screen. No graphs, but at least it'll find even a single occurrence if it's in their corpus. Jun 8, 2011 at 1:19
  • 1
    I thought it was tl;dr :)
    – mplungjan
    Jun 8, 2011 at 5:39

Being that hyphens break Google nGrams, I did a lookup for close minded and closed minded and found the following:

Google nGram

Closed minded in this case seems more popular; however, a simple Google search for close- and closed-minded shows twice as many results for close-minded. The free dictionary indicates close-minded and closed-minded are variants/synonyms of one another (and both correct).

I'd suggest using either close-minded (which seems more popular with the hyphen) or closed minded (which appears more popular sans hyphen).

  • Unfortunate the limits on Ngrams. So we can't trust the graphs, because we really want to compare -with- the dash.
    – Mitch
    Jun 7, 2011 at 19:43
  • 1
    NGrams ignores the '-', but that means it is catching 'close minded' and 'close-minded' together and similarly for 'closed'. So even though I though Ngrams was counting things badly before, I think it is actually pretty accurate (unless I'm missing a great number of sentences that end in closed and start with 'minded'. So I think 'closed-minded' looks like its winning the popularity fight.
    – Mitch
    Jun 7, 2011 at 19:52
  • @Mitch: Except you can't easily use NGrams as a 'beauty contest' judge in this particular case because of confusion between close=near and close=shut. Jun 7, 2011 at 21:47
  • @Fumble: oh. Didn't think of that. And that would result in 'less' hits for 'close'. However, I don't feel there would be many hits for the 'nearness' interpretation, it doesn't sound plausible to me that that interpretation would ever be meant. But that it is plausible to others may mean that 'close' is not the intuitively popular choice for the intended meaning of narrow minded.
    – Mitch
    Jun 7, 2011 at 22:27
  • @Mitch: Well Callithumpian & I agree that most/all of the early instances of close are in fact for the 'near' sense when we read them in context. And of course he has got that 1859 dictionary reference actually defining 'uncommunicative' as 'close-minded'. Jun 7, 2011 at 22:43
  • there is a distinction between reticent and not open to new ideas. We are only considering the latter meaning here.

  • so 'close' /kləʊs/, (klōs) as in near is never intended

  • for 'proper' standard English, the noun corresponding to the modifier would be 'closed mind'. "What kind of person has a closed mind? They are a X-minded person." This shows that it should be in standard writing:

closed minded.

  • as to which it is in practice, there are all sorts of corpus/ngram searches that have been done showing some variation 'closed-minded' being somewhat more popular than 'close-minded' but less so as time goes on.

  • Outside of news announcers and actors, in speech it is almost always

close minded.

The more formal alternative gives a three-consonant cluster that is difficult in English and is hardly ever fully articulated in normal speech patterns, similar to 'wasps/masts/casks' (all tend to drop the stop). And so writing 'close minded' reflects the pronunciation. It is not so immediately recognized as a solecism (like 'probly' or 'anser') because 'close' itself doesn't look like a wrong spelling.

  • There’s a swarm of ∗was in the room? That would be unfathomable; nobody says that. 🐝
    – tchrist
    Aug 8, 2012 at 14:08
  • @tchrist: I don't have papers available for reference, but there are alternate confirming answers here (i.e. not just from me). Don't let orthography rule your ear in listening. You may pronounce them 'properly', just like actors and newscasters, but that's not how everyday people do it.
    – Mitch
    Aug 8, 2012 at 14:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.