Inter vs. Intra: What’s the Difference?

Did you play any sports in college? Well, if you didn’t play on the school’s football or basketball team, you might have played intramural sports—or is it intermural? These two English prefixes are tricky because they sound pretty close to each other, but they actually have very different meanings.

What is the Difference Between Inter- and Intra?

In today’s post I want to clear up any confusion that you may have about these two prefixes, inter vs. intra, by outlining both of their definitions, showing you each word used in example sentences, and give you a few tips to remember their differences for the future.

When to Use Inter-

what is inter and intraWhat does inter mean? Inter- is a prefix used to form words that mean between or among groups. We see examples of this prefix in use in many places.

For example, in the United States, there is an interstate highway system. This is the road system going between all 50 states.

The athletic conference that governs high school sporting activities is called the Inter-High School Athletic Association. This group consists of high schools from all 50 states and countless counties and school districts.

Although only lasting a few short months, Minor league baseball once had an Inter-American League with teams across the Americas.

In today’s day and age, however, the most common and widespread use of prefix inter- is used when referring to the Internet, the very technology that makes it possibly to read this article! The Internet is a global network of computers that are connected and talking between one another.

When to Use Intra-

inter v intra definitionWhat does intra mean? Intra- is a prefix used to form words that mean on the inside, within. Contrast this with inter- and you immediately see the difference. While inter- deals with open systems among groups, intra- deals with closed systems between a single group. Let’s reconsider some of our above examples.

The system of highways going across the United States is called the interstate highway system, but a highway system that is only within the border of a single state would be called an intrastate highway system. For example,

  • The Texas Intrastate Highway is much better than New York’s.

If you played sports in college, you might have played intramural sports. These are athletic competitions between groups of a single school. Intramural sports are not interuniversity activities, i.e., between different schools; they are limited to one single, closed group.

And before the technology existed to create a fully functioning Internet, many companies had (and still do) Intranet communications. An Intranet is just as it sounds, a privately maintained computer network that can be accessed only by authorized users. So while the Internet is open and enables communications between any groups connected, an Intranet is a restricted network used to communicate within an organization.

When to Hyphenate

Different style guides have different opinions on when and what to hyphenate, but both of these prefixes, in general, should not be hyphenated. Some more examples,

  • Interstellar
  • Intergalactic
  • International
  • Intracity
  • Intraparty
  • Intracranial

Remember the Difference

Whenever you are in doubt about which of these two to use remember these two tricks.

An internetwork is a network that is open. Inter and open both have the letter “E” in them.

An intranetwork is a network that is contained. Intra and Contained both have the letter “A” in them.

Summary

These are both prefixes, but intra vs. inter have near opposite meanings. Therefore, it’s important we use them correctly to avoid any confusion in our writing.

Inter- means between or among groups.

Intra- means on the inside or within.

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