Difference between inherent, intrinisic and innate

Dubbidub

New Member
English
I've been wondering, for quite some time, what the difference is between these three words and I hope you can aid me in this quest.
 
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  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello Dubbidub - welcome to WordReference :)
    I don't use any of these a great deal.

    Innate seems to be more about people/creatures and qualities they are born with (the "nate" giveaway).
    I can't immediately think of inherent/intrinsic differences - I assume you've checked dictionaries and there's little point in quoting definitions.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi Dubbidub - welcome from me too :)

    Try clicking the "in context" button on the entry for inherent etc in the WRF English definition dictionary.

    That'll take you (via Google News) to examples of the words in context.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    OK

    If something is inherent it is something essential or permanent. It has been and always will be a feature of whatever you are describing.

    If something is intrinsic, it's inherent. They are synonyms in their general meaning, and I had to struggle a bit to find sentences where you could not replace one with the other.

    Inherent also has a legal meaning, but intrinsic doesn't.

    Innate is a synonym for inborn and can mean natural. Its meaning overlaps the other two. As panjandrum suggested, it applies to animate rather than inanimate objects.

    Elections are an inherent feature of democracy
    Elections are an intrinsic feature of democracy
    But
    Elections are an innate feature of democracy:cross:

    Maternal care for the young is an innate characteristic of mammals.
    Nest-building is innate behaviour in birds.
    Nest-building is intrinsic behaviour in birds.
    Nest-building is inherent behaviour in birds. :thumbsdown::thumbsup:
    Nest-building is innate in the behaviour of birds:cross:
    Nest-building is inherent in the behaviour of birds
    Nest-building is intrinsic in the behaviour of birds:cross:
    Nest-building is innate to the survival of birds.:cross:
    Nest-building is intrinsic to the survival of birds.
    Nest-building is inherent to the survival of birds.:cross:

    But most of the :cross: for the birds arise from the sentence structure rather than the meaning.

    Others may disagree

    Sorry, I didn't mean to make you unwelcome. It just wasn't clear if you had looked in a dictionary.
     

    Dubbidub

    New Member
    English
    OK

    If something is inherent it is something essential or permanent. It has been and always will be a feature of whatever you are describing.

    If something is intrinsic, it's inherent. They are synonyms in their general meaning, and I had to struggle a bit to find sentences where you could not replace one with the other.

    Inherent also has a legal meaning, but intrinsic doesn't.

    Innate is a synonym for inborn and can mean natural. Its meaning overlaps the other two. As panjandrum suggested, it applies to animate rather than inanimate objects.

    Elections are an inherent feature of democracy
    Elections are an intrinsic feature of democracy
    But
    Elections are an innate feature of democracy:cross:

    Maternal care for the young is an innate characteristic of mammals.
    Nest-building is innate behaviour in birds.
    Nest-building is intrinsic behaviour in birds.
    Nest-building is inherent behaviour in birds. :thumbsdown::thumbsup:
    Nest-building is innate in the behaviour of birds:cross:
    Nest-building is inherent in the behaviour of birds
    Nest-building is intrinsic in the behaviour of birds:cross:
    Nest-building is innate to the survival of birds.:cross:
    Nest-building is intrinsic to the survival of birds.
    Nest-building is inherent to the survival of birds.:cross:

    But most of the :cross: for the birds arise from the sentence structure rather than the meaning.

    Others may disagree

    Sorry, I didn't mean to make you unwelcome. It just wasn't clear if you had looked in a dictionary.
    Thank you, I now thoroughly understand innate, but the difference between inherent and intrinisic still perplexes me a little bit.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    If there is any difference for me between inherent and intrinsic I would say that intrinsic has a connotation of being an essential component. In other words, if something that is intrinsic is removed, the thing from which it is removed is no longer quite itself.

    "Elections are an inherent feature of democracy" means, to me, that all democracies, wherever or however they are formed, include elections. "Elections are an intrinsic feature of democracy" means, to me, that an essential characteristic of democracies is the election process and that if it were removed you would lose a critical component of what makes a democracy a democracy.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    If there is any difference for me between inherent and intrinsic I would say that intrinsic has a connotation of being an essential component. In other words, if something that is intrinsic is removed, the thing from which it is removed is no longer quite itself.
    Thank you. I was sitting here trying to find a clear example of the difference in meaning in response to Dubbidub's last post and had just got to much the same point. I was thinking why intrinsic factor (something required for the absorption of vitamin B12) could not be called inherent factor - it is inherent in the process of absorption because it is there, but it is intrinsic because without it the process must fail.
     

    Dubbidub

    New Member
    English
    If there is any difference for me between inherent and intrinsic I would say that intrinsic has a connotation of being an essential component. In other words, if something that is intrinsic is removed, the thing from which it is removed is no longer quite itself.

    "Elections are an inherent feature of democracy" means, to me, that all democracies, wherever or however they are formed, include elections. "Elections are an intrinsic feature of democracy" means, to me, that an essential characteristic of democracies is the election process and that if it were removed you would lose a critical component of what makes a democracy a democracy.
    With this responce, I believe the question has been resolved. Intrinisic means inherent, but also essential, while inherent just means inborn in something with it's importance not being described.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Inherent, to me, does not necessarily mean "inborn". It could be a constructed characteristic, such as a procedure that is inherently safe. It couldn't be called a procedure that is innately ("inborn") safe.
     

    Dubbidub

    New Member
    English
    Inherent, to me, does not necessarily mean "inborn". It could be a constructed characteristic, such as a procedure that is inherently safe. It couldn't be called a procedure that is innately ("inborn") safe.
    I know inherent also applies to inaminate things, but inborn was the only word I could come up with. :p
     

    warmblood

    Member
    USA
    Tagalog
    Thank you, I now thoroughly understand innate, but the difference between inherent and intrinisic still perplexes me a little bit.

    Inherent refers to a principle that underlies or is in a manifest pattern: an inherent tendency of a hot-headed person to lose control in tense situation.
    Intrinsic for the most part applies to fundamentals that underlie a larger design: Intrinsic weaknesses that make heating appliances fire hazards.

    Keep in mind that this response is aimed at your expressed perplexity on the difference between intrinsic and inherent. Other comments could very well be valid.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    warmblood - I don't see much difference between those two examples :( and could easily see them reversed.

    I really don't think there's any significant difference these days, even if one were to have existed a while ago. They have certainly merged and are used with inherently/intrinsically the same meaning. Looking at the etymology, one might suspect that intrinsic had a more physical or literal meaning (spatial location inside some object) while inherent seems to have started as conceptual, but clearly they are both used conceptually.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    an inherent tendency of a hot-headed person to lose control in tense situation.
    Intrinsic weaknesses that make heating appliances fire hazards.
    I'm afraid I must disagree with warmblood on that attempt to differentiate meanings. Those distinctions do not exist in the way the words have been used, in my experience, for at least 40 years. They also do not reflect the British English dictionary definitions. I agree with JulianStuart. Those are examples where either word could be used with exactly the same meaning.

    However, returning to the original question, you could also say that the hot-headed person had an innate tendency to lose control in tense situations :)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    I think the etymologies help distinguish between these words. I certainly think of them when I use them:

    Innate means inborn, i.e. not acquired.
    Inherent means stuck in, i.e. not easily removed.
    Intrinsic means inner; extrinsic means exterior (adj.)

    This would suggest that things which are innate can easily also be inherent (you can't remove them because they are stuck in) and intrinsic (not extrinsic).

    And also that some intrinsic qualities are neither inherent, because they may be removed, or innate, because acquired.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    From the OED.

    intrinsic
    1. a. Situated within; interior, inner. Obs. (exc. as in b. <anatomical>)
    2. a. Inward, internal (in fig. sense); secret, private. Obs. (passing into sense 3).
    3. a. Belonging to the thing in itself, or by its very nature; inherent, essential, proper; ‘of its own’.

    inherent
    1. Sticking in; fixed, situated, or contained in something (in physical sense). Const. in, rarely: to. Now rare or Obs.
    2.
    fig. Cleaving fast, remaining, or abiding in some thing or person; permanently indwelling. Now rare or Obs.
    3. Existing in something as a permanent attribute or quality; forming an element, esp. a characteristic or essential element of something; belonging to the intrinsic nature of that which is spoken of; indwelling, intrinsic, essential.

    Two comments.
    Only definition #3, in each case, is current.
    Each includes the other in its definition.
     

    ConnieM

    New Member
    English
    Intrinsic seems to connote a level of deepness or entanglement, whereas Inherent seems to involve continuation in a more linear direction. I encounter Intrinsic when reading physics and Inherent when reading psychology (behavioral, developmental, etc). Perhaps each word is Implicated in the other...
     

    madhoo

    New Member
    India - Punjabi, Hindi, English
    All these qualities can apply at the same time. To illustrate this I will use an example of a fruit bowl.

    (i) A fruit bowl has an innate nature that it is a fruit bowl. It has been designed to be as such and most likely to be used for that purpose

    (ii) A fruit bowl is made of wood or glass or plastic is its extrinsic nature

    (iii) inherently a fruit bowl may be red, blue, clear; heavy or light; small or large. In this instance these qualities are inherited from design (innate) or materials (extrinsic) nature.

    (iv) A fruit bowl is intrinsically a bowl as such it can be used for other purposes than just fruit. What makes this aspect intrinsic is that it will always be a bowl regardless of other qualities


    Madhoo
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I think warmblood is onto something, as ConnieM verifies. The difference isn't really in the meaning of the words exactly, but in the contexts where they fall naturally. This may be more American usage and not be as differentiated in British English, though.
     
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