While this question talks about the meaning of the word "pseudo", I'm wondering what the rules are for hyphenating words that start with this prefix.

For example, would it be correct to call someone a pseudointellectual, or a pseudo-intellectual? I asked Google, and he showed me plenty of examples of both, so I figured I would ask the experts.

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    Hello Adam. I voted to close your question as General Reference, because I think the answer is easily found by looking up a dictionary. But, if you have specific doubts about a certain word, that maybe 2 dictionaries show in different ways, you can edit your question and include that info.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 16:08
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    @Alenanno - I guess it is general reference, but given what looks to be the correct answer below, the incorrect hyphenated usage is fairly common, so I think there's some value in this question. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 16:15
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    @Alenanno: I agree with OP. Dictionaries are fine for some purposes, but they don't always help with marginal cases like this. For example, Google gets 64,500 hits for quotated "pseudointellectual", but it asks me whether I meant "pseudo intellectual". When I click on that, I get 513,000 hits (which seem to be split evenly between hyphenated and two words). My paper Collins dictionary has the hyphen, but frankly I think it's out-of-date. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 16:32
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    @Alenanno: Well, I've upvoted mehper's answer, and set out my position in a comment against it. Nobody's likely to be criticised for using "pseudo-intellectual" as of today, but like semi-conductor, for example, it will probably eventually be seen as dated, if not archaic. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 16:54
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    @Alenanno: I didn't say all words do this. Only those which actually get used very often, and come to be associated with a recognisable/familiar real-world referent. Pseudo-intellectual is firmly in that camp. Crypto-communist would have been if the cold war were still being fought the way it was during the days of McCarthyism. Pseudo-french is comprehensible even if you only ever come across it once in a lifetime (as I just did), but it's not exactly likely to become a household word. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


Pseudointellectual is correct. Take a look at the following snippet from this nice resource (archived):

With a handful of exceptions, compounds created by the addition of a prefix are not hyphenated:

anteroom, antisocial, binomial, biochemistry, coordinate, counterclockwise, extraordinary, infrastructure, interrelated, intramural, macroeconomics, metaphysical, microeconomics, midtown, minibike, multicultural, neoromantic, nonviolent, overanxious, postwar, preconference, pseudointellectual, reunify, semiconductor, socioeconomic, subpar, supertanker, transatlantic, unnatural, underdeveloped

Exceptions include

  • compounds in which the second element is capitalized or a number:
    anti-Semitic, pre-1998, post-Freudian

  • compounds which need hyphens to avoid confusion
    un-ionized (as distinguished from unionized), co-op

  • compounds in which a vowel would be repeated (especially to avoid confusion)
    co-op, semi-independent, anti-intellectual (but reestablish, reedit)

  • compounds consisting of more than one word
    non-English-speaking, pre-Civil War

  • compounds that would be difficult to read without a hyphen
    pro-life, pro-choice, co-edited

  • The OALD shows "pseudo-intellectual". Maybe this question isn't simple as it seems.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 16:14
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    Some hyphenated forms (e.g. over-the-counter) will almost certainly stay that way forever because they'd be a bit hard to read otherwise. Others (such as crypto-communist) will likely stay because they're increasingly less needed anyway. But so long as usage remains steady (or increases), words like pseudo-intellectual will always move towards losing the hyphen. And dictionaries will always be behind the times on the question of exactly when the shorter form has become acceptable/preferred. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 16:42

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