Interment and Internment

Commonly Confused Words

A monument inside the Manzanar National Historic Site at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in southern California
A monument inside the Manzanar National Historic Site at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in southern California. Manzanar served as an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. (Dave Brenner/Getty Images)

The nouns interment and internment look and sound similar, but their meanings are quite different.

Definitions

Interment refers to the act or ritual of burial.

Internment refers to the act of confining or imprisoning (or the state of being confined or imprisoned), especially in wartime.

Examples

  • During the Civil War, there was sometimes a considerable delay between the date of a soldier's death and his interment.
  • "On a March day in 1887 the skeletons of a young woman and a child were found on top of a windswept hill in southern England. . . . Nestling close to the very fragile bones were hundreds of fossil sea urchins—balls of flint engraved with a five-pointed star. All appeared to have been carefully buried with the bodies in their chalky grave at the time of their interment."

    (Kenneth J. McNamara, The Star-Crossed Stone: The Secret Life, Myths, and History of a Fascinating Fossil. University of Chicago Press, 2011)

  • During World War II, roughly 120,000 people of Japanese descent, almost two-thirds of them American citizens, were removed to internment camps in the U.S.​
  • "In World War I, . . . the internment of civilians became widespread when the Germans took captive all men of military age in Belgium and in occupied French territory, as did the British and French in reprisal."

    (Esther R. Cohen, Human Rights in the Israeli-Occupied Territories, 1967-1982. Manchester University Press, 1985)

    Practice (Answers Below)

    (a) The minister was responsible for recording the time and place of the funeral service and _____ on the church calendar.

    (b) While governments often resort to _____ during periods of national emergency, such as a war or during a terrorist campaign, the practice raises questions about the balance between security and liberty.

    Usage Notes

    • "The noun interment and the verb inter (from which it is derived) are formal words that refer to the depositing of a dead body in the earth or in a tomb. The noun internment is derived from the verb intern, which refers to the confinement of enemy aliens, prisoners of war, etc. In both nouns and both verbs the stress falls on the second syllable.​

      "The noun intern, stressed on the first syllable, is an American name for someone in the final stages of professional training, especially in medicine."

      (Martin Manser, Good Word Guide, 7th ed. Bloomsbury, 2011) 

    • "Internment generally refers to the confinement of civilians, especially people sharing the same nationality or political beliefs as the enemy, during wartime."

      (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    (a) The minister was responsible for recording the time and place of the funeral service and interment on the church calendar.

    (b) While governments often resort to internment during periods of national emergency, such as a war or during a terrorist campaign, the practice raises questions about the balance between security and liberty.

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Interment and Internment." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/interment-and-internment-1691043. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 3). Interment and Internment. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/interment-and-internment-1691043 Nordquist, Richard. "Interment and Internment." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/interment-and-internment-1691043 (accessed December 12, 2017).