Definition and Examples of Pseudowords

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms


A pseudoword is a fake word—that is, a string of letters that resembles a real word (in terms of its orthographic and phonological structure) but doesn't actually exist in the language. Also known as jibberwacky or a wug word

Some examples of monosyllabic pseudowords in English are heth, lan, nep, rop, sark, shep, spet, stip, toin, and vun.

In the study of language acquisition and language disorders, experiments involving the repetition of pseudowords have been used to predict literacy achievement later in life.

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Pseudowords are letter strings which have no meaning, but which are pronounceable because they conform to the orthography of the language—as opposed to nonwords, which are not pronounceable and have no meaning."
    (Hartmut Gunther, "The Role of Meaning and Linearity in Reading." Writing in Focus, ed. by Florian Coulmas and Konrad Ehlich. Walter de Gruyter, 1983)
  • Pseudowords and Phonological Processing Skills
    "In an alphabetic language such as English, the best measure of phonological processing skill is the reading of pseudowords; that is, pronounceable combinations of letters that can be read by the application of grapheme-phoneme conversion rules, but they are, by definition, not real words in English. Examples include pseudowords such as shum, laip, and cigbet. Pseudowords can be read by application of grapheme-phoneme conversion rules even though the words are not real and have not been encountered in print or in spoken language. Although it has been argued that pseudowords may be read by analogy to words, some awareness of grapheme-phoneme conversion rules and segmentation skills are necessary to read a pseudoword correctly. For example, for a correct reading of the pseudoword dake, it must be segmented into an initial letter d and a rime or word body ake; the latter could be read by analogy to cake, but the sound of d and the segmentation itself are, in fact, phonological processing skills."
    (Linda S. Siegel, "Phonological Processing Deficits and Reading Disabilities." Word Recognition in Beginning Literacy, ed. by Jamie L. Metsala and Linnea C. Ehri. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998)
  • Pseudowords and Brain Activity
    "In some studies no differences in brain activation for real words and pseudowords are observed (Bookheimer et al. 1995), indicating that the tasks activate brain regions for orthographic and phonological but not semantic coding. . . . Presenting the same pseudoword repeatedly so that it is no longer an unfamiliar word reduces activity in right lingual gyrus, suggesting that that structure plays a role in learning to recognize familiar words (Frith et al. 1995)."
    (Virginia Wise Berninger and Todd L. Richards, Brain Literacy for Educators and Psychologists. Elsevier Science, 2002)

Alternate Spellings: pseudo word, pseudo-word

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Pseudowords." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Definition and Examples of Pseudowords. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Pseudowords." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 28, 2022).