[Ads-l] emigrate vs. immigrate

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 3 13:46:45 UTC 2018

I vaguely recall from elementary school that “emigrate” means to leave a country and “immigrate” means to enter a country. No matter how many times I’ve thought about this, though, it seems like each entails the other and that “immigrate" is the preferred form, perhaps because Americans like talking about their immigration history.

The English OLD (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/emigrate <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/emigrate>) provides a usage note in line with what I learned in elementary school:

To emigrate is to leave a country, especially one's own, intending to remain away. To immigrate is to enter a country, intending to remain there: my aunt emigrated from Poland and immigrated to Canada

This matches advice such as at 
https://www.vocabulary.com/articles/chooseyourwords/emigrate-immigrate-migrate/ <https://www.vocabulary.com/articles/chooseyourwords/emigrate-immigrate-migrate/>
https://writingexplained.org/immigrate-vs-emigrate-what-are-the-differences-between-immigration-and-emigration <https://writingexplained.org/immigrate-vs-emigrate-what-are-the-differences-between-immigration-and-emigration> ('“Immigrate” and “emigrate” are two words that have similar meanings and can be easily confused. The differences between the two are subtle but important, especially if you want to keep your writing from looking sloppy.')

Looking at the OLD’s sample sentences, the following seems to work according to the usage note because the to-be emigrants are talking to their neighbors in their home country:

Suddenly they moved, telling neighbours they were emigrating to the US. 

But in the following example sentences, it seems that “immigrate” should be used:

Herschel settled in the area after emigrating from Germany.
In his early years, he emigrated to Leeds and after some years married and settled there.
On emigrating to the US, he was actively involved in sporting organisations in the Big Apple.

The OLD (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/immigrate <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/immigrate>) labels “immigrate” as North American, defining it as "Come to live permanently in a foreign country." Here are three sample sentences where “emigrate” seems to be better:

Outcasts and refugees from throughout the world have immigrated to it and flourished as they could have nowhere else.
It is also known that many European settlers first lived in Venezuela, only to immigrate to the United States.
Instead, many Western Samoans seek to immigrate to American Samoa.

Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emigrate?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emigrate?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld>) has a more nuanced usage note:

The subtle difference between them lies in point of view: emigrate stresses leaving the original place, while immigrate focuses on entering the new one.

I remain unconvinced. My impression is that “immigrate” is the preferred form in the US and that on rare occasions Americans use “emigrate” when they want to focus on leaving the original country.

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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