For today’s Grammar Time, we’ll go over the differences between inherent, intrinsic, and innate.
If you use these three words interchangeably, you’re not alone. But these words actually have some subtle differences that are worth noting.
First, let’s dig into the definitions of these words.
- Inherent is derived from the Latin word inhaerēre, meaning “inhere” or “stick to.” If something is inherent, it generally means that it exists as a permanent or characteristic attribute.
- Intrinsic comes from the Latin adverb intrinsecus, meaning “inwardly.” Intrinsic is usually used to indicate that something belongs to something naturally.
- Innate originates from the Latin innatus, which is the past participle of innasci, meaning “to be born in.” Innate means that something is inborn.
Now that you know what these terms mean, here are some examples of them in action in order to help clarify how they differ.
FOR EXAMPLE: Adrenaline junkies understand that falling to their death is an inherent risk of base jumping and skydiving.
The risk is inherent because the risk is permanently attached to skydiving since it’s a dangerous activity. There’s no way to skydive without there being some risk involved.
Intrinsic is similar but slightly different. The most common uses for intrinsic have to do with things like value.
FOR EXAMPLE: Gold has intrinsic value.
There is a naturally occurring value tied to gold, which is what makes it intrinsic.
Innate, on the other hand, should not be confused with inherent or intrinsic. What is innate is inborn, meaning that the term can only apply to living things. Inherent and intrinsic, however, primarily describe objects and ideas even though they can also apply to living things. Here are some examples.
FOR EXAMPLE: Stephen Colbert has an innate sense of humor.
WRONG: Getting stronger is an innate consequence of hard work, consistency, and proper diet.
RIGHT: Getting stronger is an intrinsic consequence of hard work, consistency, and proper diet.
There are times when these words can be used interchangeably, but there are also nuanced differences to their meanings which make some uses more appropriate. Do you have any tips or tricks for using these words correctly? Share in the comments below.