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How To Use "Eminent," "Imminent," & "Immanent"

In this post, you will learn how to use the commonly confused words eminent and imminent, as well as the less common word immanent. Because these words are so close in spelling and pronunciation, it is easy to get them mixed up; even accomplished English speakers often do so. To help you distinguish among them, I will focus on their etymologies and provide some quick mnemonics. As usual, I also provide lots of examples.


Eminent

The words eminent and imminent both come from the Latin minere, meaning "to jut out" or "to project." This root is also the source of the English word "prominent," which overlaps in meaning with eminent. The prefixes of these words are the only differences: e- (ex-), meaning "out" for eminent; im- (in-), meaning "in," for imminent; and pro-, meaning "forward," for "prominent." Thus, these words literally mean "projecting outward" (eminent), "projecting inward" (imminent), and "projecting forward" ("prominent"). Based on these prefixes, you can see why the meanings of eminent and "prominent" are similar and why the meaning of imminent differs.


The literal meaning of "jutting out" is preserved in the secondary definition of eminent ("prominent, conspicuous, or jutting out"), but this word is now more commonly used metaphorically, to mean "famous, important, or noteworthy" (usually said of a person or organization); you can think of this as the person or group "jutting out" from the crowd in a positive way (as eminent is only used positively).


I should also note that the noun form eminence is sometimes used as a title for a holy leader (such as for cardinals in Catholicism): for instance, "His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan." Here are some examples of eminent used in sentences:

My goal is to—through hard work and studying—become an eminent expert in my field. The Buddhist leader His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa will be speaking here in June. The building would not stand out in New York City, but it is quite eminent in our small town.

As a side note, preeminent is also a common term; it is obviously related to eminent, but it is a superlative, as it means "supreme; highest in rank or importance." For instance, there may be many eminent (notable) scholars in a given field, but only one can be preeminent (the most notable). Here is an example:

Dr. Anthony Fauci has quickly established himself as the preeminent expert on COVID-19.

Imminent

I've already discussed the origins of the word imminent, so let's jump into its current meaning. The original meaning was something akin to "overhanging," typically referring to an object that is "projecting into" a space. This then shifted subtly to the more general meaning "near to" (after all, if something is hanging over you, it feels pretty near to you). From there, we get the metaphorical meaning of "impending" or "close in time." Note that, in today's English, imminent is only used to refer to time; you wouldn't say, for instance, "This chair is imminent to that couch." Here are some example sentences for the modern usage:

If you want to do well, please do not wait until the test is imminent to begin studying. The imminence of the job interview was reason enough to eat my lunch quickly.

To keep eminent and imminent straight, I'd recommend using this mnemonic: an emperor is eminent, and people often get impatient when an event is imminent.

Immanent

Finally, we have the less common word immanent, which is a homophone of imminent but which comes from a different root (the Latin manere, meaning "to dwell"). Adding in the prefix im- (in-), meaning "in," we see that immanent literally means "dwelling within." You can imagine, then, how it got its current meaning of "inherent" or "innate." It also has another meaning specific to philosophy: "within the bounds of human experience or knowledge"; in this sense, it refers to ideas that are gathered from ordinary experience (as contrasted with "transcendent," which refers to ideas that stem from extraordinary experiences). Here are a couple example sentences:

Laurie's immanent ability to make others feel comfortable is very helpful in her sales job. Monks certainly are spiritual, but most of their days are spent on immanent concerns.

To distinguish between immanent and imminent, remember that the former contains the word "man" and refers to skills or ideas that exist within a "man" (or woman).


That's all for this post! Please let me know if you need any additional explanation, or if you have suggestions of particularly difficult homonyms that I can help with. You can leave a comment below or email me at info@elevationediting.com. Thank you for reading, and please visit ElevationEditing.com the next time you need high-quality editing services.

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