When languages borrow from each other, they play fast and loose with spelling rules.
Sometimes, the borrowed word or phrase will be altered so that it matches spelling norms of the new language. Other times, it is left as is, with little or no change.
Given this inconsistency, is en route or in route the correct version of this French term? The results may not be surprising, but they are still interesting.
What is the Difference Between En Route and In Route?
In this post, I will compare en route vs. in route. I will use each of these terms in at least one example sentence, so you can see how they look in context. Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that will allow you to choose in route or en route correctly every time.
When to Use En Route
What does en route mean? En route is an expression that means on the way or in transit. It is an importation of a French phrase that translates, literally, to on the way.
Merriam-Webster first recorded its use in English in 1779, probably coinciding with French military aid in the American Revolution.
- “Units are en route to the scene,” said the dispatcher over the radio.
- “We have three supply vessels en route to the war zone,” said the ambassador.
- Prominent Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said Thursday he was barred from leaving the country after authorities seized his passport while en route to the United Nations to denounce rights abuses by President Nicolás Maduro’s government. –The Wall Street Journal
Today, en route simply means on the way in basically any context. People might say they are en route to a party when asked if they have left yet.
When spoken aloud, en route is pronounced identically to on root, although the latter has an entirely separate meaning.
Also, the correct spelling of this term is always en route. A spelling without a space enroute occasionally pops up here and there, but it is a widely rejected spelling that you should avoid.
As you can see from the above graph, which charts enroute vs. en route over time, the correct spelling is clearly en route.
When to Use In Route
In route is a misspelling of en route. It is easy to see why writers make this mistake—the French en can translate directly to in in English, and the phrase itself means in transit.
Nonetheless, in route is not considered a standard variant of this phrase. As you can see from the graph below, this time charting in route vs. en route, English writers have strongly preferred en route since at least the year 1800, which is nearly the entire time since en route was introduced into the language.
This chart isn’t exhaustive in its scope, since it only looks at books published in English since 1800. Still, it grants insight into a long-term usage trend.
Trick to Remember the Difference
You should always use en route. In route seems like it should make sense, but it is a nonstandard variant and has never seen widespread use.
Since en route comes from French, remember that en is a French word and in is not. This trick will allow you to remember the correct version of this phrase.
Is it en route or in route? En route is a phrase that English imported from French in the 18th century. It means on the way.
- En route is the correct spelling.
- In route is a misspelling of en route.