The words eminent and imminent sound quite similar, but have very different meanings. This often leads to confusion in using the words correctly in speech and writing. Let’s examine the distinct definitions of eminent and imminent, common usage, and tips for keeping them separate.
Definitions of Eminent vs. Imminent
Eminent refers to someone or something that is highly respected, distinguished, famous or renowned in their field or community. For example, an eminent scientist, eminent scholar, or eminent public figure. It implies prominence and repute.
Imminent refers to an event or occurrence that is about to happen or is likely to happen very soon. For example, imminent danger, imminent clash, or imminent failure. It implies impending.
- Eminent describes a person or thing which holds a position of renown, preeminence or authority. Imminent describes an action or event that is impending or about to occur in the near future.
- Eminent denotes high status or fame. Imminent denotes impending action, change or greater proximity in time.
- Someone who is eminent has achieved recognition through talent or accomplishments. Something imminent is expected or predicted to happen shortly.
- Eminent implies prestige and respect. Imminent implies urgency or impending nature.
Here are some examples that demonstrate the distinct usages of eminent and imminent:
- Marie Curie was one of the most eminent scientists of the 20th century due to her groundbreaking discoveries in physics and chemistry.
- With Hurricane Florence approaching the coast, meteorologists warned of the imminent threat of dangerous storm surges and flooding.
- As an eminent philosopher, Chomsky has influenced fields ranging from cognitive science to history to political thought.
- Janice realized negotiations were on the verge of collapse, so her team needed to take imminent action to help resolve disputes.
- The eminent novelist won several prestigious literary awards over the course of her writing career.
- The lookout on the ship spotted imminent peril when she noticed the iceberg directly ahead.
Tips for Proper Usage
To use eminent and imminent correctly:
- Use eminent to describe someone or something that holds a high status or commanding position in their field because of talent or achievement.
- Use imminent when signaling that an event, change or action is about to happen, impending or close at hand.
- Remember that eminent refers to distinction. Imminent refers to proximity.
- Eminent takes nouns as subjects. Imminent usually modifies nouns or verbs.
- Add context clues as needed to clarify meaning. For example, “the eminent Dr. Silvers” or “the imminent storm”.
By keeping their distinct meanings and usages separate, you can confidently use eminent and imminent appropriately in all of your speaking and writing.
Looking at the etymology (origins of words) of eminent and imminent sheds further light on their meanings:
- Eminent derives from the Latin word eminens meaning “standing out, projecting,” and by extension “distinguished, prominent.”
- Imminent stems from the Latin imminens meaning “overhanging, threatening,” and by extension “impending, about to happen.”
These Latin roots clarify why eminent conveys prestige and imminent conveys impending action.
Examples in Literature
Examining how eminent and imminent get used in literature also illuminates their distinct meanings:
- In Charles Dickens’ famous opening line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the “worst of times” hints at imminent danger, turmoil and hardship about to unfold in the story.
- When Shakespeare wrote that Caesar’s “glories overcame him” the term “glories” references Caesar’s eminent status and fame, which led to perceiving himself as all-powerful.
- In the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes is portrayed as an eminent detective – highly distinguished in solving crimes through deduction.
- In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the father realizes that the “imminent night was upon them” implying pressing danger coming quickly.
Proper Contextual Usage
To use eminent and imminent accurately:
- An eminent individual has prominence in their field, whereas an imminent event has impending action close at hand.
- Something happening imminently is expected soon. Someone eminent has existing reputation.
- Imminent danger means peril is nearing. An eminent degree is a distinguished title conferred on a deserving individual.
- Imminent decisions are close to being finalized. Eminent historians are well-respected experts in studying the past.
- Imminent risks need preventative action right away. Eminent artists have their works on display in major museums.
Keep in mind these core distinctions based on implied meaning – either existing prominence (eminent) or impending occurrence (imminent) – and you can properly apply the terms.