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“Coequal”: Is That a Word?

February 12, 2019

 

We’ve heard a lot lately about coequal branches of government, but what exactly does that word mean? Is it even a word?

Well, yes, it is a word. My Webster’s dictionary defines coequal as “equal with one another.” Dictionary.com goes a bit further to same effect: “equal with another or each other in rank, ability, extent, etc.” The bottom line is that “coequal” means “equal.”

Despite this word having been around since the late 14th century, it does not appear in the Constitution.

But Shouldn’t There Be a Hyphen in Coequal?

No, despite what you may have seen, “coequal” is not a hyphenated word.

We use the prefix “co-“ a lot to describe relative status, such as when we talk about our coworkers. This prefix can mean a thing is subordinate to the other, that things are together, or — wait for it — that the things are equal. If the word after this prefix is “equal” and equality is what we are trying to stress, the prefix appears superfluous.

If you want to sound pretentious and show you can use fancy words, go for it. But if your goal is to communicate plainly without triggering the reader’s or listener’s ire, stick with “equal.”

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