Usage: Eminent or Imminent?

Apr 29, 2020 | Posted by Jennifer


Homophones, words that sound the same but that have different spellings or meanings or both, can be tricky to remember. Some of the earliest homophones students learn are its and it’s as well as their, there, and they’re. Today’s confusable words, both adjectives, while not homophones, are frequently pronounced similarly enough as to be indistinguishable from each other. What words are they? Eminent and imminent.

Knowing a bit of Latin really helps with knowing the difference between these two words. Both of these words have the same root: minēre, which means “to project” or “to jut out.” Both words also have prefixes. In the case of “eminent,” the Latinate prefix is e-, which comes from the Latin preposition ex-, and means “out of.” Combining the prefix and its base, minēre, the word means “to stand out.” Therefore, a person who is eminent is prominently recognized in his or her field.

Now let’s turn to the word imminent. Its base is also minēre. The prefix, however, is im-, which is a form of the Latin preposition in-, and means “in,” “into,” “within,” or “upon.” Taking what we learned about minēre, then, we can combine the two to come up with an approximation of the meaning: to be near to something that juts out. Extending that a bit further, something that is imminent is near to the time that it will happen.

So now we have a complete picture. The word eminent means someone who is highly regarded as an expert within his or her particular field. Imminent, however, means something that is about to happen. I like to remember the difference between these two words this way: Someone who is eminent stands out, whereas something that is imminent is close to happening.

Fix It! Grammar is a great source for learning about homophones. They are introduced throughout the various levels. If you haven’t yet tried the program, download the free lessons that can be found at They include three weeks of Fix It! Grammar at three different levels.

Additionally, a source that I like to consult when I’m searching for a deeper understanding of the components of a word is Etymonline. If you have any inquisitive students who want to know more about the words they are encountering, it’s a great place for you to begin their investigation. Explaining and defining the words you are curious about, this online dictionary is also a great way to learn about the history of words.

As you sleuth out more and more words with your students, they will come to recognize that larger words are frequently made up of smaller, meaningful bits of words called morphemes. Morphology, the study of the forms of words, offers a practical way for students to learn about morphemes, which can expand students’ vocabularies, support spelling, and assist in the comprehension of the material they read. But even better, morphemes are fun to learn about as well.

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