Word War: Imminent vs Immanent vs Eminent

The abundance of homophones (or words that sound alike or almost alike) in the English language has been both a blessing and a curse. For one, it has given many poets the opportunity to play with words to make their works resonating; and for another thing, it has confused so many writers which word is which. For example, the words imminent, immanent, and eminent—these are actual words, and they have different meanings. What then is the difference among the three of them?

When something is imminent, that means it’s “impending.” Immanent isn’t a typo; it means “inherent.” And, eminent means “distinguished.” Now that everything is clear, let’s take a look at how these words are used in a sentence.

How do we use imminent in a sentence? Imminent means “likely to occur at any moment” or “impending.” It refers to something that’s approaching, about to happen, anticipated, or threatening to occur. For example, in his novel Coquette (1921), author Frank Arthur Swinnerton uses the word to describe someone’s arrival: “While she was waiting, she one day received a letter from Toby, announcing his imminent arrival in London.” Here, imminent means that Toby’s arrival to London is about to happen. A more recent example (2017) from Daniel Summers in the Daily Beast: “For children on the cusp of mobility, it’s all about the childproofing. When crawling and walking are imminent, I talk with parents about getting the house ready.”

How about the word immanent? It means “remaining within or inherent.” It’s often used in philosophical and spiritual contexts. In When Winter Comes to Main Street (1922), Grant Martin Overton writes, “And yet, for some, reality is not immanent in the affairs of this world but only in those of the next.” Another example from C.K. Mahoney in his 1922 The Philosophy of Prayer: “I hear them speak of an immanent God; of a God who fills all nature.”

How about eminent? Eminent means “high in station, rank, or repute.” It also means “prominent, or distinguished.” It can describe a person, place, or thing. For example, the president of the United States can be described as “an eminent world figure.” One may also say “The White House is eminent,” meaning that it’s a prominent and highly ranked symbol of the United States. An eminent professor, as another example, is one of the most distinguished and notable ones in their fields.

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