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Pseudo (Prefix): Definition & Words

Instructor: Jo Kenney

Jo has experience as an instructional designer and courseware developer and has a doctorate in Education Technology.

This lesson discusses the prefix pseudo, including its definition and the way it changes the meaning of a root word. We will also look at some examples of words that use this prefix.

Defining 'Pseudo-'

The English language can be complicated because the meaning of a word can be changed by adding a few letters in front of the root-word. These added letters are called a prefix and it can completely change the meaning of the word. However, by knowing how prefixes work, and the specific meaning of the prefix, you can often discern the new meaning.

The prefix 'pseudo-' (soo-doh) is Greek in origin, a combining form of pseudes (false) or pseûdos (falsehood). Sometimes, especially before a vowel, the prefix is written as 'pseud-', such as in the word pseudepigraphs (falsely attributed works).

'Pseudo-' in front of a word is used to denote that something is false, fictitious, or a replica. It can also be used to point out that something may appear to be something that it is not.

So let's take a look at the prefix 'pseudo-' and how it is used to change the meaning of a root-word. You may have heard the term pseudoscience in relation to astrology, numerology, aura analysis, or alchemy, but what exactly does that mean? Well, let's look at the different parts:

Pseudo (false) + science (a methodical study of the physical and natural world) = pseudoscience, assertions or studies of the physical and natural world that claim to be scientific but are not

These definitions of science and pseudoscience are a bit simplistic, but this example should help you understand how 'pseudo-' affects the meaning of a root-word.

Changing the Meaning of a Word

Let's look at a few more examples so we can get a clear idea of the different ways the prefix 'pseudo-' can change the meaning of a word.

1. It can be placed in front of a word to demonstrate that while it resembles something, it is not that thing.

Example: pseudo + classic = pseudoclassic

something which is erroneously regarded as a classic

The church was built in a pseudoclassical style.

2. In scientific use, 'pseudo-' is placed in front of a word to demonstrate that the subject has close or deceptive resemblance to the root-word.

Example: pseudo + adaptation = pseudoadaption

the apparent adaptation of an organism to a changed environment

The pseudoadaption of the frogs was evident in their lower than normal birthrate in the newly formed bog.

3. The prefix 'pseudo-' is sometimes used to denote a harmful or disapproving aspect of something.

Example: pseudo + intellectual = pseudointellectual

a person who pretends to have deeply pursued intellectual studies for the purpose of impressing or prevailing over others

He is a pseudointellectual, trying to convince people that the book was better, but his lack of specifics makes it clear that he has never read the book.

Example: pseudo + medicine = pseudomedicine

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