Imminent vs. eminent?

If something is certain and near, it’s “imminent.” When someone’s achievements or positive qualities allow them to stand out, they are “eminent.”

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What is the difference between imminent and eminent?

Writers frequently confuse the adjectives imminent and eminent because they share similar spellings and pronunciations (yes, we’re dealing with another set of homophones). Using Garner’s Modern English Usage, we can break down their differences as such: 

  • Imminent means ‘certain and very near’ or ‘impending.’ 
  • Eminent describes something ‘distinguished’ or ‘unimpeachable.’

Eminent and imminent are also frequently confused with the adjective immanent, a term we use to describe something as ‘inherent’ or ‘pervading the material world‘ (when describing a higher power). 

Let’s compare how we can use each term correctly: 

  • “An eminent person has achieved more status and power than the average citizen.”
  • “Success is not imminent unless you’re talented and willing to work hard.” 
  • “Transcendental writing describes nature as an immanent connection to self-actualization.”

What does imminent mean?

The word imminent is an adjective that describes something as ‘occurring very soon,’ ‘about to happen,’ impending,’ or even ‘around the corner’ (and often in an intimidating or frightening manner). 

How do you use imminent in a sentence?

  • “Just when federal help seemed imminent for L.A.’s long-suffering music venues, another disaster afflicted the afflicted.” — Los Angeles Times
  • “In short, an overwhelming majority of investors said there was a greater than 10 percent probability of an imminent crash…” — The New York Times
  • “A severe thunderstorm warning means that there is imminent danger for large hail, damaging winds, lightning and torrential rain in the path of the strongest part of the storm.” — CNY Central

Synonyms

At hand, approaching, brewing, close, coming, forthcoming, impending, looming, nearing, oncoming, pending, proximate, threatening, upcoming. 

Antonyms

Distant, late, recent, remote. 

What does eminent mean?

The word eminent derives from the noun eminence, which means ‘a prominent or superior ranking’ or ‘one who is well-known or noble.’ Therefore, an eminent person is someone ‘famous and respected within a community’ or ‘standing above others in achievement or importance.’ 

How do you use eminent in a sentence?

  • “Chucho Valdés on piano and Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet formed an eminent Cuban contingent.” — The New York Times
  • “The eminent professor will be joined by the world’s brightest minds in science, music, and culture for the festival’s fourth installment…” — Wired UK
  • “An eminent scholar is offered a top post in the Obama administration, and his first reaction is: They must have made a mistake.” — The Wall Street Journal

Synonyms

Celebrated, distinguished, esteemed, exalted, great, honored, illustrious, influential, noble, notable, noteworthy, outstanding, prestigious, star, superior.

Antonyms

Average, inferior, insignificant, mediocre, minor, unimportant. 

Where do imminent and eminent come from?

The words imminent and eminent have very similar word histories and etymologies. Both adjectives derive from Middle English via “Old French” or “Anglo-French,” and both words ultimately originate from Latin: 

  • Imminent: from Latin imminēns, imminent- (the past participle of imminēre). 
  • Eminent: from Latin eminens, eminent- (the present participle of eminēre).

As shown above, we derive the meaning of imminent from Latin imminēre, which means ‘to project,’ ‘threaten,’ or ‘overhang.’ Likewise, the adjective eminent stems from Latin eminēre, which means ‘to jut out’ or ‘stand out’ (another way of saying ‘to project’ or ‘overhang’). The connection between the two adjectives lies with the Latin root -minēre, meaning ‘to jut’ or ‘threaten.’ 

FAQ: Related to imminent vs. eminent

What does “eminent domain” and “imminent danger” mean?

The phrases “eminent domain” and “imminent danger” are examples of “legalese” (aka legal jargon). According to The Law Dictionary, “eminent domain” describes the right of a government to seize private property for public use. Meanwhile, the legal term “imminent danger” references workplace hazards that place individuals at serious risk for death or physical harm. 

Example sentences: 

  • “House Bill 527, now before the Missouri Senate, is critical legislation that would protect Missourians from the harmful abuses of eminent domain laws by profit-generating merchant transmission lines.” — The Kansas City Star
  • “A New York City internist who worked at a Bronx nursing home has been deemed an “imminent danger” to the public and ordered to stop seeing patients.” — New York Post

What does preeminent mean?

The word preeminent (sometimes written as “pre-eminent”) is an adjective that describes someone as ‘most important, distinguished, or powerful than all others.’ 

Example sentence: 

  • “It was a Faustian bargain that made Hawking the preeminent scientist of our lifetimes—but at a cost.” — Scientific American
  • “Eric Foner, the pre-eminent historian of the civil war and Reconstruction, sees parallels with our own time but warns yesterday’s solution would be a disaster.” — The Guardian

Additional reading

If you enjoyed learning the difference between imminent and eminent, check out The Word Counter’s recent posts on topics like: 

Test Yourself!

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

  1. True or false?: The adjectives imminent and eminent sound similar but have different meanings. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. Choose the correct meaning of the word immanent
    a. Near
    b. Inherent
    c. Pervading the material world
    d. B and C
  3. Choose the correct synonym for eminent.
    a. Forthcoming
    b. Average
    c. Threatening
    d. Noteworthy
  4. Which Latin word is the etymological connection between imminent and eminent?
    a. Imminens
    b. Minere
    c. Eminent
    d. Eminere
  5. Which adjective describes someone as “most important, distinguished, or powerful than all others”? 
    a. Eminent
    b. Imminent
    c. Preeminent 
    d. A and C
  6. ____________ is a law term that describes the confiscation of private property.
    a. Imminent domain
    b. Mnemonic device
    c. Eminent domain
    d. Imminent danger

Answers

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

Sources

  1. Beck, M. “Silencing the Voice That Says You’re a Fraud.” The Wall Street Journal, wsj.com, 16 Jun 2009.
  2. Brown, A. “L.A. club owners confront fresh new hell: a crashed government website and puzzling reopening rules.” Los Angeles Times, latimes.com, 21 Apr 2021. 
  3. Chinen, N. “Global Flavors and Asides to Obamas at The White House Jazz Gala.” The New York Times, nytimes.com, 30 Apr 2016.
  4. Eminence.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  5. Eminent.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021. 
  6. Eminent.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  7. Eminent.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  8. Eminent Domain.” The Law Dictionary, thelawdictionary.com, 2021. 
  9. Garner, B. “Imminent; eminent; immanent.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 488. 
  10. Imminent.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021. 
  11. Imminent.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  12. Imminent.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  13. Klein, M. “NYC nursing home doctor called an ‘imminent danger,’ ordered to stop seeing patients.” New York Post, nypost.com, 3 Apr 2021.
  14. Mershon, B. “Jeff City can’t let Grain Belt Express trample Missourians’ private property rights.” The Kansas City Star, kansascity.com, 13 Apr 2021.
  15. Pengelly, M. “A disputed election, a constitutional crisis, polarisation … welcome to 1876.The Guardian, theguardian.com, 23 Aug 2020. 
  16. Preeminent.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
  17. Seife, C. “The Myth of Stephen Hawking.” Scientific American, scientificamerican.com, 6 Apr 2021.
  18. Shiller, R. J. “People Fear a Market Crash More Than They Have in Years.” The New York Times, nytimes.com, 23 Oct 2020. 
  19. Stephen Hawking, Buzz Aldrin, and Oliver Stone to speak at Starmus 2017.” Wired, wired.co.uk, 3 Jun 2017.