Is it extraversion or extroversion?

3 min read

We debunk the psychology behind this word and how you really should be spelling it.

A lot of people ask the question, ‘what is the correct spelling of the word extraversion? Is it with an “A,” as in extraversion, or with an “O,” as in extroversion. We deal with this same thing here at PI because the term shows up as both a primary factor on our PI Behavioral Assessment and throughout many of PI’s training, science, and marketing materials.

So which is it?

The reality is it’s okay to use either spelling. To most people, both versions of the spelling generally mean the same thing, so both are typically considered equally acceptable. But because PI had material with both spellings of the word, we needed to make a decision on which form we would use. The decision was to use the spelling of “extraversion.”

Why the “A” and not the “O?” 

First, from a traditionalist point of view, the term “extraversion” wasn’t a part of psychology until Carl Jung introduced it into the lexicon of the science world.

Since Jung introduced extraversion and introversion, Psychology has come a long way towards understanding, doing extensive research on the constructs. And in most of the cases, psychologists, especially in technical work, have used the “A” spelling.  For example, contemporary research and test development around the Five Factor and HEXACO models have consistently used the “A” spelling. In that way, it’s generally the psychologically acceptable way of spelling it.

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Second from an etymological perspective, the Online Dictionary of Etymology sheds further light on the “A” by showing that the word “extravert” comes from German Extravert, from extra “outside” + Latin vertere, “to turn.” In Latin, the etymology also shows that “extra” and “intro” mean “out of/outward/outside” and “into/inward/inside.”

If Latin and word etymology aren’t your thing, look at the practical side of the word. The prefix “extra” is pretty common and often used with other words like extraordinary, extrapolate, extraterrestrial, extravagant, etc. In the entire English dictionary, “Extro” shows up as a prefix less than 10 times, six of which are variations on “Extroversion.”

People often wonder where the “O” came from and nobody knows for sure.  Some think it’s because it sounded better or was more symmetrical with the sound and spelling of introversion. This drives the purists crazy.

In a Scientific America Article, “The Difference between ExtrAversion and ExtrOversion” (2015), psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman indicates that it was just an error in by Phyllis Blanchard from a 1918 paper where she not only used an “O,” but also redefined the meaning of the constructs. Regardless of the source of the new spelling, around the 1920s, it became a popular way to spell it. As the evolution of language goes, it became an alternative that became extremely common over time.

In conclusion, we’re using “extravert” because it’s ultimately the original spelling, how the psychological sciences generally spell it, and—quite honestly—how many of us who do the technical work at The Predictive Index spell it, too. Since we need consistency in the work we do, we had to make a decision for internal materials. That means you may start seeing that “A” creep into our technical documents, workshop materials, and the new version of the PI software over time. But there’s no need to worry or change your own approach to spelling it. Extroversion is perfectly acceptable and the most popular way to spell it, so you’re in good company.

Greg is the SVP of science at PI.

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