Q&A: Imminent vs Eminent

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re charged up as we discuss pronunciation…

Q: Hi AWC, do you know what I was just listening to in the car?
A: The podcast So you want to be a writer?
Q: No, but that’s an excellent idea actually. It was Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself“…
A: So is that why you were late?
Q: No, my GPS broke. Sorry.
A: Does your question have something to do with Eminem this week?
Q: Well, not entirely, but it sounds very similar – I saw someone had written about certain “imminent scholars” on their blog, and it seemed odd.
A: Ah, yes – a common mistake. And unless those scholars were about to arrive at the door, that person really should have said “eminent scholars”…
Q: I suppose they do sound quite similar…
A: Hardly a defence. If that were all that were required, we’d all be working out at the jam and driving about in toy Yodas.
Q: Not vehicular, they are.
A: Exactly. “Imminent” and “eminent” are, however, both adjectives. “Imminent” means that something is physically nearby or about to happen. For example, “her departure was imminent” or “the floodwaters were imminent”.
Q: And eminent?
A: That’s what your blog writer probably wanted – it means famous or respected or notable, especially in a certain area. For example, “Dr Dre is an eminent rapping collaborist, famous for his work with Eminem and others.”
Q: Is Dr Dre a real doctor?
A: Yes, he has his own dental practice, replacing normal teeth with gold ones for rap stars.
Q: Really?
A: No.
Q: Oh. So, which of “imminent” or “eminent” is more common?
A: Well, if you check Google’s “ngram” tool (it’s fun – google it!), it will show that they’re about the same these days, but “eminent” used to be far more common.
Q: What about pre-eminent? I’ve heard that a bit.
A: Indeed – and that is simply the superior form of “eminent”. It’s an “an” versus “the” scenario.
Q: How do you mean?
A: Someone can be “an” eminent professor of vexillology, but there will only be one who’s the best – “THE” pre-eminent professor of vexillology.
Q: Vexillology? Sorry, my interest is beginning to flag.
A: Nice. And by the way, you can say “pre-eminent” or “preeminent” – with or without the hyphen. It’s a style thing.
Q: Alright. That’s those two. But what about “immanent”?
A: Yes, another “sounds like” one – and certainly MUCH less common than “imminent”. It means “inherent or indwelling” – perhaps in the context of inner beauty. But generally, to avoid confusion, most writers will just use “inherent”.
Q: And all these adjectives have noun versions too?
A: Absolutely. Imminence, eminence, pre-eminence and immanence.
Q: I sense that the end of this chat is imminent.
A: The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blaow!
Q: Very nice. You had one shot, one opportunity.
A: It may be the only opportunity we get.
Q: Okay, enough. Thanks for that, I’d better get back to the car. It’s 8 miles home and Mum’s making spaghetti.
A: You better go and capture that moment. See you next week. [Mic drop.]

Do you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore this year? Email it to us today!

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