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'Emigrate' Versus 'Immigrate'

Learn Grammar Girl's quick memory trick and you'll never forget the difference between "emigrate" and "immigrate" again.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
emigrate immigrate

Although “immigrate” and “emigrate” seem like a matched pair, they came into English at different times. 

“Immigrate,” which means to come into a new country to settle there, immigrated into English, so to speak, in the 1620s. It came from a Latin word that was a combination of the "im-" prefix plus "migrāre," which meant "to move" and is also the origin for words such as “migratory” and “migration.” When you immigrate, you essentially move in to a country.

Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important it finds homes for us everywhere. — Jean Rhys

"Emigrate" also comes from that Latin root, "migrāre," but didn’t show up in English until the late 1700s. The E at the beginning of "emigrate" means "out." When you emigrate, you’re moving out of a place.

I finally found a setting for despair. So I put it on my schedule for twice a month; I think that's a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything, about staying here on Earth after everybody who's smart has emigrated, don't you think? — “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” Philip K. Dick

My memory trick is to note that immigrants come “in,” and both "immigrant" and "in" start with the letter I. Many readers also wrote in to note that people who emigrate exit a country, and both "emigrate" and "exit" start with the letter E.

Emigrant Gap photo, Loco Steve at Flickr. CC BY 2.0

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