Engrained or Ingrained: What’s The Difference?

Language and its complex construction have a number of rules and regulations that it must adhere to. English in particular has a long list of rules for grammar and spelling. A lot of its words are borrowed from other languages and so the lines can become blurred for what is correct. There are sometimes words that mean the same thing but have developed variant spellings over time.

English is a language that is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to master due to the complexity of its rules and the fact that it actually breaks its own rules more often than not.  The exceptions often outnumber the rules, and it can be very hard to keep track of what is right and what is wrong, especially if you find yourself working with several different groups of people with their own colloquialisms or slangs.

This is especially the case when discussing American English vs. British English. Words can be confusing when this happens because you are never sure if there is a “right” version to use. Words in English often borrow spellings from other languages and swap an “i” for an “e” occasionally. Here, we’ll explore the word ingrained and its alternative spelling, engrained as a prenominal. 

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Definition of Ingrained

To better understand a word, it is important to first define it. According to the Merriam Webster English Dictionary, the word ingrained (ɪnˈɡreɪnd) means, “forming a part of the essence or inmost being” or, “worked into the grain or fiber.” The word ingrain can also mean, “firmly fix or establish a habit or belief in a person.” “Ingrainedly” and “engrainedly” aren’t technically correct but they are still used on occasion. 

History and Origin of the Word Ingrained

The word ingrained was first used in the 1590s, and meant “dyed with grain”. It later came to mean, “thoroughly imbued” around 1851. It originally came from the Middle English word “engreynen” and from the French word “en grain”. 

ɪnˈgreɪnd has been used figuratively since the 16th century, to describe something that has been worked into someone’s habits or beliefs.     

Example Sentences of the Word in Context

To gain an even deeper understanding of a word, it can be useful to look at examples of the word used in a sentence, including some collocations. Here are some examples of the word ingrained:

  • These books are ingrained in our national culture and history.
  • Every day she would take out the trash, her mom had ingrained that habit in her.
  • He has a deeply ingrained distrust of authority figures. 
  • Her ingrained habits are not very productive. 
  • He’s an ingrained fool! 

Just as culture evolves, so does the language within it. So while ingrained originally had a literal meaning, it developed into a figurative meaning over time. 

This way you can use it in either context. You can say that ink is ingrained on your skin because it won’t come off after getting a tattoo, or you can say that saying “thank you” has become ingrained in your mind after years of habit. 

Synonyms of Ingrained from a Thesaurus

If you are still confused about the word ingrained, it is useful to look at some similar words with related meanings. Here are some synonyms for ingrained:

  • Implanted: “Establish or fix (an idea) in a person’s mind.”
  • Embedded: “An object fixed firmly and deeply in a surrounding mass; implanted.”
  • Entrenched: “To establish (an attitude, habit, or belief) so firmly that change is very difficult or unlikely.”

What Does Engrain Mean

You may have seen the word ingrained spelled like “engrained”. While you may be led to believe that these words have different meanings because of their spellings, they are actually identical in the definition. The variance in spelling is merely a preference, usually based on where you live in the world. The spelling “ingrained” is usually preferred in the English speaking world, but engrained is still an accepted variant in literature and other media rather than just a bad spelling. 

The instances of the “engrained” spelling are far more common in America than anywhere else in the world. 

For example, in the NY Times: “That’s a tough sell because few things are more deeply engrained in human nature than the impulse to punish enemies.” 

Other Words That Have Changed Spellings

There are plenty of variances in the way Americans spell words that were borrowed and modified from British English. Often the American version of the word drops a “u” or changes an “re” ending to “er”. This was just a preference Americans had when forming their own adaption of the language. For example, the word “colour” in British English became “color” in American English. Or the word “metre” became “meter” in America. Some British might people find this to be confusing and quite strange. 

In Summary

The English psyche can be terribly confusing. Especially when we look at the way Americans have changed the language to reflect their own culture and habits. Sometimes homophones are not homophones at all, they are merely regional variants of the same word. Other times though, there are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. It can be difficult to keep track of which words are which. But once you learn the difference, you will remember it for the rest of your life.

Learning new words can be a challenge. A word you thought you knew may surprise you after doing some research on it. It is important to remember that while the English language does have generalized rules, there are many rulebreakers too. This is mainly because the English language borrows from so many other languages that words get mixed around and change their spelling, especially in recent years — which is why long-term education is so important! 

Hopefully, this article helped you understand more about the word of the day engrain vs. ingrain and clear up any confusion you previously had concerning the two words. Good luck!