Emigrate vs Immigrate


You’ve come here to learn when to use emigrate vs. immigrate. But before we move forward, tell us: Are you in, or are you out? By the end of this post, we expect you’ll be both! See, the key to using the words “emigrate” and “immigrate” lies in recognizing which one refers to entering and which one refers to leaving.

If you are unsure whether you’re coming or going when it comes to emigrate vs. immigrate, we’re here to get you headed down the right path.

OK, let’s go!

We Begin at the End: Migrate

Both “emigrate” and “immigrate” contain the base word of “migrate,” which means to move from one place to another. Birds migrate south for the winter. Workers migrate toward better jobs. People migrate from one country to another. When you migrate, you are effectively moving from one area to another. This common link between “emigrate” and “immigrate” is a clue that motion is involved.

However, many people confuse “emigrate” and “immigrate” because they both describe a similar action. In fact, people emigrate and immigrate at the same time! When you migrate from one country to another, you emigrate from your homeland and immigrate to a foreign place.

So, to differentiate between emigrate vs. immigrate, the question then becomes, Which direction are you moving in? Are you going out, or are you coming in?


The Answer Is in the Prefix

Knowing the definition of “migrate” is half the battle, but the determining factor in emigrate vs. immigrate is the prefix. This is where things can get tricky. It may be easy to recognize that “migrate” refers to someone physically moving from point A to point B, but how do you determine when to select the word “emigrate” (beginning with em-) or the word “immigrate” (beginning with im-), and why does the first word have only one m whereas its relational antonym is written with two m’s?

Here are the short answers:

Emigrate means to exit, to leave. It has one m.

Immigrate means to enter, to come in. It has two m’s.

But let’s dig deeper to understand why.

Im- vs. Em- and In- vs. Ex-

The word “immigrate” comes from the Latin word immigrāre—“to move into”—and has the prefix im-, which is a variant of the prefix in-. We use im- because it would sound awkward to say in-migrate. In fact, advanced grammarians will tell you that an in- is always converted to an im- whenever it precedes another m, p, or b precisely for this reason.

The word “emigrate” comes from the Latin word ēmīgrātus—“to move away from”—and has the prefix e-, which is similar to the prefix ex-. Of course, you would never hear someone say “exmigrate,” so we drop the x and simply use the e. Emigrate.

The Politics of Emigrate vs. Immigrate

Immigration policy is a popular topic in Washington. In fact, politicians across the globe often debate the rules and guidance for if and how they’ll permit others to enter their country. Emigration policy does not get as much attention because policymakers tend to be more focused on who is coming in—those who are immigrating—than those who are leaving, or emigrating.

To be clear on all this coming and going, the words “emigrate” and “immigrate” are used primarily in reference to people moving between countries. Immigrants go into a new country with the intent to live there permanently. Conversely, foreign citizens leave their country and emigrate to some other location.

From a grammatical standpoint, this can serve as helpful context in understanding the difference in emigrate vs. immigrate.

immigrate vs emigrateA Trick to Remembering Emigrate vs. Immigrate

Another tip to understanding emigrate vs. immigrate is to put them in alphabetical order and look at which comes first. Emigrate comes before immigrate. Interestingly, this order is similar in concept to when one travels from one place to another. First, you pack your bags and emigrate from where you are. Secondly, you immigrate to somewhere new.

If you consider these two endpoints in one’s course of travel, where a trip begins and where it ends, you’ll recognize that “emigrate” is when you leave and “immigrate” is when you arrive.

You Say Good-Bye. We Say Hello.

Those who immigrate to new lands often do so with hopes and dreams of a brighter future. And if this was your first visit to eliteediting.com, then welcome! Thank you for traveling here. Now that you understand emigrate vs. immigrate, we invite you to migrate over to our Resources page, where you’ll discover other valuable facts, thoughts, and ideas on the world of writing. Bon voyage!


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