Eminent vs. Imminent: What’s the Difference?

English has many pitfalls for beginning and experienced writers alike, not the least of which is the presence of homophones. Homophones are words that are pronounced the same or similarly, but mean different things.

Homophones that share both a common pronunciation and a grammatical function compound writers’ frustrations. Imminent and eminent are two such homophones—they are both adjectives, and their pronunciations are usually indistinguishable in spoken language.

To make matters even worse, a third adjective—immanent—is yet another homophone for these words. If you aren’t sure whether you mean eminent or imminent, or even immanent, you probably aren’t alone.

What is the Difference Between Eminent and Imminent?

In this article, I will compare eminent vs. imminent. I demonstrate the proper use of each word in a sentence, and, at the end of the post, I will explain a helpful trick to use when you cannot decide whether to choose eminent or imminent in your writing.

When to Use Eminent

Definition of imminent definition of eminentWhat does eminent mean? Eminent is an adjective that means distinguished or illustrious.

For example,

  • Antoinette Sharkley, the eminent physician, ate waffles for breakfast this morning.
  • Invite some eminent physicists to your dinner party to stimulate the conversation.

In a somewhat confusing twist of prefixing, one who is distinguished or illustrious in the superlative is said to be preeminent, like in the sentence below.

  • I am the preeminent scholar on Lebanese microfauna.
  • Rockefeller University, a pre-eminent biomedical research institute with more Nobel Prizes to its credit than most countries, knows how to run experiments. –The Wall Street Journal

When to Use Imminent

Define imminent define eminentWhat does imminent mean? Imminent is another adjective. This word means impending or about to happen. The sentences below illustrate its proper use.

  • An imminent disaster is brewing if the pitcher cannot strike out the next three batters.
  • If the farm does not find a way to make money, foreclosure is imminent.
  • Many people believe that an alien invasion is imminent.
  • The most imminent economic concern may be the outcome of the race for the White House. –The New York Times

When to Use Immanent

What does immanent mean? These words have another homophone—immanent. Immanent means pervasive or ever-present. It is primarily used in theological contexts.

For example,

  • Evil is immanent in human deeds.
  • Beelzebub’s immanent meddling causes humans to stumble on the path of righteousness.

Trick to Remember the Difference

eminent versus imminentSets of three homophones that are all the same part of speech are always confusing. Luckily, there is a simple trick to remember when to choose imminent, eminent, or immanent.

Here is a helpful trick to remember imminent vs. eminent.

Eminent begins with the same letter as its synonym esteemed. By remembering that both of these words begin with E, you can mentally link eminent with its meaning.

Likewise, imminent has one more I than immanent. Since imminent means impending, another I word, you can use the same technique to remember this word’s meaning, as well.

The same trick also works for immanent. Something which is immanent is always there- in this case, the mnemonic device is the shared A.

Summary

Is it eminent or imminent? Eminent, immanent, and imminent are all adjectives that sound the same when spoken aloud.

  • Eminent is a synonym of distinguished.
  • Imminent is a synonym of impending.
  • Immanent is a synonym of pervasive.

By thinking about the unique features of each word’s spelling, you can link them to their meanings in your mind.

Homophones can be confusing, especially when three of them share a grammatical function. You can always check this site when you are faced with confusing words.

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