Imbed or embed?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by UJS, Jun 18, 2009.

  1. UJS New Member

    From what I can tell, it seems that the words "imbed" and "embed" have the same meaning, are they interchangeable? If so, is either one preferred by native English speakers?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. NerdBird Senior Member

    Coventry, England
    English - England
    Hi UJS,
    I had never come across 'imbed' until reading your post. I've just had a look in the dictionary and it gives it as an alternative spelling for 'embed'. To the best of my knowledge 'embed' is the preferred spelling and certainly the most common in my experience.
    I hope this helps x
  3. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    My experience of this is the same as NerdBird's.
  4. elirlandes

    elirlandes Senior Member

    Dublin & Málaga
    Ireland English
    My response would be the same as NerdBird's... I am not sure I have ever seen imbed and I would certainly always use embed.
  5. UJS New Member

    Great, that's all I needed to know. Thanks for the quick responses everyone!
  6. graand New Member

    Manitoba, Canada
    I think start life as a spelling mistake that unfortunately caught on! :rolleyes:

    Embed... let's see, sounds like 'imbed'. There, close enough...

    My boss uses 'imbed' regularly, drives me nuts.
  7. kitenok Senior Member

    Welcome to the forum, graand!

    The evidence from the OED doesn't support your theory that "imbed" is just a spelling mistake that caught on. The spellings embed and imbed have coexisted since the word was first used in the late 18th century. The first recorded use in the OED is "imbed":

    "Embed" doesn't appear until 16 years later:

    That said, it's always "embed" for me, on the rare occasions when I actually use this word...
  8. CapnPrep Senior Member

    They are simple variants of the same word (for now), and as the previous posters have confirmed, "Embed is now the more common form." (OED)

    More generally:

    • "From 14th c. onwards the prefix IN- (IM-) has been frequently substituted for en- (em-); and, conversely, en- (em-) has been substituted for the prefix IN- (IM-) of words of L. or It. origin, and for the native Eng. IN-. Nearly every word, of long standing in the language, which is formed with en- has at some period been written also with in-." (s.v. en-, prefix¹)
    • "Hence, a large number of words occur in the 15th and 16th c. with both forms of the prefix, and some have retained both forms to the present day, either with no distinction of sense, as in enclose, inclose, enquire, inquire, or with differentiation of use, as ensure, insure." (s.v. in-, prefix²)
    For those who might be interested, there are many threads in this forum about the proper spelling of such doublets, for example:
    Enquiry - Inquiry
    assure, ensure or insure
  9. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Here in the US, my experience is the same as that of the earlier UK respondents: the word is embed, and I don't think I've ever seen or heard "imbed" used, despite the fact that both US and UK dictionaries mention it as a variant spelling. (The forum software has just underscored the latter here in my post, meaning it's perceived as an error by the program.)
  10. CapnPrep Senior Member

    I don't think that's the forum software; it's probably your browser, and different browsers use different dictionaries for spell checking. For example, [my installation of] Safari uses the New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed. 2005) and it accepts imbed without complaining. [My installation of] Firefox uses a some other, open-source dictionary, and it underlines imbed.

    In COCA, there are 323 occurrences of imbed vs. 3888 occurrences of embed. In the BNC, there are 19 imbed vs. 86 embed. Those of you who say you have never come across imbed either don't read very much ;) or have in fact seen, but simply not noticed, this alternative spelling.
  11. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Oh! Thank you, Cap'n! I'm admittedly technologically challenged, and I've just learned something (I didn't know that browsers had spell-checkers).
  12. sergio11 Senior Member

    Los Angeles and Buenos Aires
    Spanish (lunfardo)

    Maybe they were both equally used at some time, but nowadays the extraordinary surge in its use in the software and technology world with the spelling "embed," such as "embedded applications," "embedded software" and other like expressions, ended up imposing this spelling.

  13. writersus New Member

    I just joined this forum, so I hope this isn't out of line or too, too late, but "imbed" is only properly used in present tense transitive (e.g., I imbed garlic in my roast for added flavor.) but embed is used in other cases and always in the past tense transitive, infinitive, and all intransitive cases (i.e., I embedded garlic in the roast to add flavor. The garlic is to embed in the roast. Garlic rub sticks to the roast but doesn't embed.) I have noted some dictionaries have not kept this distinction, and, well, language is living, fluid, and ever changing.

    The way I used to teach it was:
    "Imbed" denotes a force or violence upon the object--like impregnate often happens "im bed" :p
  14. Wordweeder New Member

    English English
    Good aftn, I tend to agree with Sergio11 : the IT/software application world uses the verb regulary as you rightly point out. Similarly in the business world where 'legalese' and regulatory texts also use embed. However, I am currently reading through some recent European regulatory texts and, lo and behold, 'imbed' has crept in when clearly embed is implied and would be the norm.Such regulations will lead to regulatory technical standards, no doubt 'coining' such potentially misleading ( and annoying) usage, when a standard is supposed to be set to ensure consistency and reliability.
    Nevertheless, I do like Writersus's culinary usage.However, if one was to apply the method that would mean implant is a somewhat forceful, if not violent action (transitive), and emplant or emplanted would imply that it is painless - poor leg of lamb!
  15. The Ngram Viewer result is interesting.

    << Broadly, graphs show a steep increase in the usage of 'embed' c.1980 and a monotonous decline for 'imbed'. (combined AE and BrE) >>
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 18, 2014
  16. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    That distinction in meaning and claim about use in the present tense alone has no justification. The OED is, I think, accepted as the most detailed record of historical English usage. Both spellings have ben used over a very long period and recent examples of 'imbedded' and 'imbeds' dating from the 1970s were taken from scientific papers. The spelling applies also to 'imbeddedness'. What is clear is that 'embed' has become much more common, and that spelling has been reinforced by new usage - such as the computer world using 'embedded' rather than 'imbedded' and the use of 'embed' to refer to journalists being attached to operational military units in combat.
  17. Promethium New Member

    English - England
    This distinction seems to be entirely made-up, I can't find any evidence for it.

    I disagree with the notion that "embed is implied", "embed" and "imbed" are simply synonyms and either can be used. The use of "imbed" is not a mistaken attempt at the use of "embed". I personally don't find it misleading or annoying, although this reaction is clearly a matter of personal taste! I would agree that "embed" is now the norm in IT ("embedded system") but I have seen "imbed" used e.g. in financial and legal situations (e.g. "The tax incentives to rely on equity financing imbedded in the NID [Notional Interest Deduction] are arguably clearer and more salient to owners and managers alike") which may tally with the observation that "imbed" is being used in European regulation.
  18. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    I would only point to the difference between inquire and enquire: i.e. none.
  19. ISBIT_Van1 New Member

    English (Canada)
    I think you mean monotonic, not monotonous
  20. ISBIT_Van1 New Member

    English (Canada)
    I too have noticed the recent switch to "embed" in the computer/IT/software worlds. Just for the record, "imbed" was used exclusively in Engineering in the 70's in Canada. As far as I know, it still is.
  21. fascinated New Member

    English-United States
    The textbook I use (Chaffee, John (2012) Thinking Critically​, Cengage Learning, publisher Wadsworth in Boston) uses imbed. It drives me crazy.

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