Eminent - immanent - imminent

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The adjective immanent is rare these days. Many modern readers will never come across it - though literature students who read the works of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) may stumble across it from time to time. It means roughly 'dwelling in', and is most usually used to describe a central Spirit, intelligence or God that exists within all the parts of the Universe.

Because it is a real word, the spellchecker will not correct you if you write it as the false spelling of imminent, a much commoner adjective. It means 'about to happen soon', or 'on the way'. "A storm was imminent, he thought, feeling himself uncomfortably hot and humid." "Did Napoleon feel his defeat was imminent on the eve of Waterloo?" "The student felt she should do some revision, as the exams were imminent."

Do not confuse either immanent or imminent with the near homophone eminent, which means 'high' (of hills, etc), 'projecting' (Carlyle described "A very eminent nose" (Past and Present, 1843, cited in OED) or, more figuratively, 'important'.

All three of these have corresponding abstract nouns.

  • An eminence is a protrusion. It can mean 'a hill'. With a capital 'E', it is the appropriate title of a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic church, who is formally addressed as 'Your Eminence' and spoken about as 'His Eminence'.
  • Immanence (sometimes 'immanency') is the state of being that belongs to the whole cosmos.
  • Imminence is a state of anticipation: "the imminence of her wedding made her search for clothes more urgent".