Sometimes words don’t mean what we think they mean. And usually this is because a set of commonly confused words (1) look or sound the same, (2) have similar meanings, or (3) show up in similar situations—some words just like to hang out with other words. In any case, this is the first post of our Commonly Confused Words series. Today we tackle imminent and eminent.
Imminent: Something that is about to happen or something that is impending
Eminent: Someone or something that is famous or notable
Their Usage And Some Examples
✔ The dark clouds implied an imminent storm.
✖ The dark clouds implied an eminent storm. (Dark clouds don’t usually predict if a storm will be famous or notable.)¹
✔ “Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.”
✖ “Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being imminent.” (the man is not “about to happen,” he’s just famous)
Imminent: It seems to have mostly meant “impending” or “to overhang,” so imminent hasn’t really changed much over the years.
Eminent: Mostly it seems to have meant “prominent” or “projecting.” Eminent has evolved a bit more than imminent, but it’s easy to see how “prominent” morphed into “notable” or “famous.”
No shocking twists and turns in the histories of imminent and eminent, but perhaps future word sets will thrill us.
Each month we’ll have posts that unravel these word mysteries. You can expect definitions, examples, and maybe even some etymology! Because we’re all word nerds, right?
¹ Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies (1711–1726)