Word War: Migrate vs Emigrate vs Immigrate

There are currently at least 171,476 words listed in the English dictionary. This may sound comforting as we have a variety of words we can use to express ourselves more articulately. At the same time, it also poses confusion, especially with words that somehow share the same root. For example: when you move to a different country to live or work there, do you migrate, emigrate, or immigrate?

Migrate is “to move from one country or region and settle in another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.” It doesn’t have to be a permanent move, but migrate is more than a weekend away. A person who migrates is called a migrant, for example: “The number of migrants in the United States has been rising over the past few years.”

Emigrate means “leave one’s own country in order to settle permanently in another.” The word implies a permanent relocation and applies only to people, whom we refer to as an emigrant or “a person who leaves their own country in order to settle permanently in another.” For example: “My ancestors were emigrants; they emigrated from Portugal.”

Immigrate means “come to live permanently in a foreign country,” and only applies to people as well. Immigrant refers to people who come to live permanently in a foreign country. For example: “My grandparents are immigrants; they immigrated to the United States in the 1920s.”

Migration is an umbrella term that involves moving and covers both emigrate and immigrate. The difference between and emigrate and immigrate is that emigrating is the act of leaving a country to live in another while immigrating is the act of entering a foreign country to live. Let’s take a look at the following sentence:

My grandparents migrated in the 1920s. They emigrated from Portugal and immigrated to the United States.

In this example, my grandparents are immigrants in the United States, but back in Portugal, they are emigrants. There is a good trick to remember the differences between and emigrate and immigrate. The prefix e- (or ex-) usually means “out of” or “from.” The prefix im– (or in-) often means “in” or “into.” Therefore, emigrate means “to move out of” and immigrate means “to move into.” Or to put it even more simply: You emigrate from places; you immigrate into places. To migrate is simply to move from one country or region and settle in another.

2 thoughts on “Word War: Migrate vs Emigrate vs Immigrate

Add yours

  1. My grandparents migrated in the 1920s. They emigrated from Portugal and immigrated to the United States.

    In the example, you’re saying your grandparents migrated, but then also em/immigrated. If to migrate is to move somewhere else impermanently, it wouldn’t make sense that they migrated and em/immigrated too. Does that make sense?

    Or did it start out as migration just so they could find work, but then they decided to make the move permanent? I is confusion. America exprain.

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