Grammar Corner: Immigrate vs. Emigrate

In this edition of Grammar Corner, we discuss some of the most widely used grammar errors in the English language. We don’t just correct you, though; we pinpoint exactly why a particular word/phrase/idiom is used incorrectly, while providing the context for each mistake, and then providing the right word/phrase/idiom.

Most of the time, a grammar error occurs because of homophones. Homophones are two words that sound exactly the same, but mean vastly different things. But it’s not just their meaning that’s different; homophones can also function as vastly different parts of speech.

In this edition, we discuss a common grammar error: Immigrate vs. Emigrate. Both words are pronounced and spelled similarly, lending to the confusion between the two. However, to discern each word’s meaning, we need to look at their root word: migrate.

Migrate comes from the Latin migrat, or to move, and refers to the movement of something, be it persons, animals, ideas, or entire cultures, from one geographic region to another. This move can either be a permanent relocation or a temporary one.

Both immigrate and emigrate stem from the word Migrate. However, despite their similarities, they mean the exact opposite of one another.

When To Use Immigrate

The word immigrate means to enter a foreign region and settling there, be it temporary or permanent. However, in a geopolitical context, to immigrate implies permanently relocating to another country. People who immigrate are called immigrants. Note that the word ‘immigrate’ is distinguished from ‘migrate’ by its implication: migration is simply the act of moving or crossing geo-political boundaries, whereas immigrating in moving or crossing geopolitical boundaries and settling in a foreign region. For example:

My grandfather was a prominent immigrant leader in the country during the 20’s. He helped set up an immigration facility in our home town and also invented the precursor to the whack-a-mole game.

If there’s one thing I love about having a vibrant immigrant community in my neighborhood is the vast array of wonderful foods they bring. Well, that, and the really cool exotic weaponry.

If it wasn’t for immigration, we’d be stuck with bland, un-spiced, under-seasoned food forever, so sit yourself down, Karen, and stop being racist.

When To Use Emigrate

In contrast, emigration is the act of leaving a home country as opposed to immigration, which is the act of entering a foreign country. In a geo-political context, a person or a people might choose to emigrate from their homes in an effort to escape oppressive conditions or to seek asylum elsewhere. However, it can also be used to denote a person or a people leaving their homes and seeking employment in a foreign land. For example:

My grandfather emigrated from Greenland, which made his ‘authentic’ taco stand all the more curious to everyone who tried it. Good stuff, though.

I’ve decided to emigrate from America to Japan, I just feel like the people there will appreciate my love for anime and the samurai lifestyle more than folks here!

Jenny recently emigrated from Canada to live with the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia. She says she was inspired by visions she had from the Aboriginal concept of the “Dreamtime”; however, I’m pretty sure that’s not it, and I’m starting to suspect that’s not oregano she’s putting in her pasta.

Have we made a decision about emigrating? Not to rush, it’s just the mortar fire is getting closer and closer, and I just feel like it would be safer for us to move somewhere that doesn’t have so much fighting, y’know.

Which One to Use: Immigrate vs. Emigrate?

The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is to check the prefix: “im” implies that the migration is going in to a country, while the prefix “ex” refers to a migration that is exiting a country.

Thus, immigration is a person entering a specific geographical region that is foreign to where they’re from, whilst emigration is a person leaving their specific home geographical region.

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