Engrained or ingrained?

Ingrained” is the standard spelling for the adjective and past participle of ingrain (verb). “Engrained” is an accepted spelling variant, but it is much less common than “ingrained.”

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What is the difference between engrained and ingrained?

When it comes to the spelling of engrained or ingrained, most people assume one form is more common in American English while the other is preferred in “British English” (standard English outside of the United States). But while this is normally the case, “ingrained” is the correct spelling to use.

Is engrained a word?

In short, yes. “Engrained” may not be the standard spelling of the verb/adjective, but it is an accepted spelling variant. We see similar spelling patterns with synonyms such as endued/indued, embedded/imbedded, and entrenched/intrenched.

What does ingrained mean?

The word ingrained is an adjective and the past participle/past tense form of the verb ingrain. You might recognize other verb forms of ingrain, such as ingrain/ingrains (present tense) and ingraining (present participle).

Definition of ingrained as a verb

To “ingrain” (verb) is to firmly fix, establish, or inundate someone with a certain quality, principle, lifestyle habit, attitude, etc. Put another way: When ingraining something into someone, you’re producing or branding a “vivid impression” of something onto their “mental or moral constitution” (making it a part of their innermost nature).

What else can be ingrained/engrained? (examples):

  • A social philosophy with different ideas that are contrary to one’s broader culture (such as destructive cultism)
  • Standardized education within classrooms
  • Projections and trauma responses influenced by previous generations 
  • Institutional bias involving economic, racial, and gender discrimination
  • Beauty standards and consumerism propagated by marketing campaigns
  • Perceptions of society and culture presented by entertainment and news media

But while “ingrain” often implies actions onto people, it may also apply to the act of fixing a quality into a natural texture or textile. This is why ingrained parallels the definition of embedded, as they can both mean “to fix firmly into the surrounding matter.” 

Example sentences

  • “The pope’s conviction ingrained a fear of sin and the endless punishments of hell.”
  • “The lowly status of the engineer ingrained a sense of self-doubt and unease felt for a lifetime.”
  • “The superstitious habit was ingrained into the young child as a way to cope with growing up in a tumultuously competitive environment.”
  • “Carpets in the warehouses are now ingrained with dust, mud, and rubble.”
  • “The dustmen wore old black jeans ingrained with the remains of the town’s waste.”
  • “Visiting the livestock was an endeavour that left her dark green sweatshirt ingrained with fodder and manure.”
  • “The need to love and be loved is ingrained in human nature.”

Definition of ingrained as an adjective

Whichever quality is ingrained (adjective) into someone is inherently deep-seated, part of their “inmost being,” and is difficult to remove. As such, the adjective often extends itself to describe something as “deeply embedded” or “worked into the grain or fiber” (such as dirt or a stain). 

Example sentences

  • “The wrongfully convicted must endure ingrained issues of systemic racism and violence within prison culture, compounding the trauma of their relegation.”
  • “The actions of the ingrained fool sparked a wave of protests around the globe.”
  • “A drawback of culture today, native Britons say, include ingrained habits of discretion that encourage silent suffering.”
  • “Most skincare essentials neither prevent aging nor remove ingrained impurities from skin pores.”
  • “Criticism from my boss was forever ingrained in my mind.”
  • “Widows may grieve over a period of years, carrying a heavy, ingrained feeling of insufferable heartache.” 


Branded, bedded, embedded, endued, engraved, enrooted, entrenched, established, fixed, imbued, impacted, implanted, impressed, imprinted, inculcated, infixed, infused, inoculated, instilled, invested, lodged, rooted, steeped, suffused.


Dislodged, rooted out, uprooted.

History and etymology of ingrain and engrain

The spellings of ingrained and engrained stem back to Late Middle English engreinen (from Old French engrainer, en graine), meaning “to dye fabric in grain” or “to dye scarlet.” Both terms incorporate Old French grain via Latin granum (“seed, grain of corn”) through the similarities (or misassociation) between seeds and certain scale insects. 

As noted by Lexico, the origins of ingrain directly reference the use of red “cochineal” or “kermes” dyes, which happen to be the genus names of insects used to produce these red dyes. Anyone who owns houseplants might recognize this connection through mealybugs, a common cochineal species and plant pest, which dissolves into a red substance when exposed to alcohol. 

Some sources speculate that people may have thought the insects were berries or grains (or possibly thought them alike), so they used the word “grain” in naming the dye and dyeing process. 

Verb formation:

En– or in– (intensifiers) + grain = “to dye with cochineal or in fast colors”

Adjective formation: 

“In grain” = “fast dyed”

The modern, figurative senses of ingrained/engrained are still relevant to their archaic meanings, but they arrived much later. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the use of “ingrained” as an adjective came after the verb in the 16th century to mean “deeply rooted,” while the sense of “thoroughly imbued” came to be in the mid-19th-century. 

Published examples of ingrained and engrained

“As women, it has been engrained that we are typically paid less than our male counterparts, so much so that we will often back off on salary negotiations.” — Entrepreneur

“The adage ‘the customer is always right’ is engrained in the hospitality industry.” — Hospitality Magazine

“Although he already appears to have the Barcelona style of play engrained in his DNA, he didn’t join La Masia until he was 11.” — The Scottish Sun

“Biden said Floyd’s passing is the latest ‘tragic reminder that this was not an isolated incident, but a part of an ingrained systemic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country.’” — NBC News

“But look closely and there are signs that ingrained mistrust of Facebook may be wearing away its nonstick coating.” — NY Times

“Though completely different places, all three are unavoidably connected by the theme of man’s inhumanity to man and by the racism so deeply ingrained in our culture.” — Chicago Sun-Times

“But this rational understanding was no match for the underlying evolutionary pressures that have ingrained the idea that ignoring a potential connection is a really bad idea.” — The New Yorker

Additional reading

If you enjoy learning about variant English spellings, be sure to check out similar lessons by The Word Counter, such as:

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between engrained and ingrained with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false?: Ingrained and engrained are acceptable variants of the same word.
    a. True
    b. False
  2. True or false?: The adjective ingrained may describe something as “deeply embedded” or “worked into the grain or fiber” (esp of dirt or stains).
    a. True
    b. False
  3. “Ingrained” first entered the English speaking world in Middle English as ____________. 
    a. Grain
    b. Engreinen
    c. Granu
    d. En graine
  4. Which of the following definitions does not apply to the verb engrain/ingrain?
    a. “To impress lifelong attitudes onto the consciousness of people.”
    b. “To encourage and instill an impulse or preference at an early age.”
    c. “To provoke a conclusion or reaction that is contrary to one’s long-term education.”
    d. “To influence the essence of a thing to the extent of changing its lifestyle routines.”
  5. Which of the following sentences uses ingrained as a verb?
    a. “Human rights groups have placed the spotlight on the ingrained, structural problem of racial inequality.”
    b. “Stalwarts of the national sport say they must ingrain habits of partisanship to boost public interest.”
    c. “Drinking, an ingrained habit of war, led him down a lifelong path of endless sin.”
    d. All of the above
  6. Which of the following sentences uses ingrained as an adjective?
    a. “The books are a tough sell, as they are so water damaged, the bookmarks of previous owners are ingrained onto tattered pages.”
    b. “The editor from the National Register has an ingrained eye for bad spelling and pronunciation after years of working for the local paper shop.”
    c. “Having taught every definition from America’s largest dictionary with flashcards, her students can now write with an ingrained vigor and precision unseen in the history of public education.”
    d. B and C

Quiz Answers

  1. A
  2. A
  3. B
  4. C
  5. B
  6. D


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  2. Boyer, L. “Imposter Syndrome in the Boardroom: How Executives Handle Self-Doubt.” Entrepreneur, entrepreneur.com, 6 Oct 2021.
  3. Brown, M. “Trump’s Capitol invaders should have to make a return trip to D.C. to take in the museums.” Chicago Sun-Times, chicago.suntimes.com, 8 Oct 2021.
  4. Cloros, A. “Get ready to reopen: the new dining rules.” Hospitality Magazine, hospitalitymagazine.com, 10 May 2021.
  5. Engrain.” Collins English Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers, 2021.
  6. Engreinen.” Middle English Compendium, University of Michigan Library, 2021.
  7. Harper, D. “Engrain” and “Ingrained, adj.” Online Etymology Dictionary, etymonline.com, 2021.
  8. Ingrain.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021. 
  9. Ingrain.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  10. Ingrained.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  11. Ingrained.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  12. Ingrain.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  13. Ingrain.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  14. Grain.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  15. Newport, C. “E-mail is making us miserable.” The New Yorker, newyorker.com, 26 Feb 2021.
  16. Ovide, S. “Facebook Isn’t Scandal-Proof.” The New York Times, nytimes.com, 28 Sept 2021.
  17. Sotomayor, M. “​​Biden condemns death of George Floyd, says black lives are ‘under threat.’” NBC News, nbcnews.com, 27 May 2020.

Photo contributors: Artsy Vibes (@artsyvibes) and JF Martin (@numericcitizen) on Unsplash.