On top of having similar functions in sentences, some word pairs are spelled in almost the same way. “Instill” and “install” are two such words, having only one phonetic difference that could easily be mistaken for the other when spoken aloud. But however similar these two are in spelling and pronunciation, they are in no way interchangeable—they mean two different things.
The similarity between “instill” and “install” can be drawn from their shared prefix “in-,” which means “into.” Their root words “still” and “stall” seem like variations of each other, but they actually come from two distinct Latin words.
“Instill” takes most of its meaning from the Latin word “stillare,” “to drop or trickle.” As such, to instill is “to cause to enter drop by drop,” as in the case of instilling a purifying solution into a contaminated vessel using a dropper. Figuratively, “instill” also means “to impart gradually” like one does when teaching a value or lesson to someone—one instills the spirit of compassion in their fellows through constant, exemplary service and care.
As for “install,” its Latin origin is “stallum,” which refers to a “place” or “stall.” Literally, “install” means “into place.” The word’s lexical meanings are all variations of this literal meaning, including the following:
In the case of official business,
“To place in an office or dignity by seating in a stall or official seat” and “to induct into an office, rank, or order.”
Ex. The schemers behind the royal court installed a dummy monarch.
In terms of positioning,
“To establish in an indicated place, condition, or status.”
Ex. I installed myself in the seat farthest from the doctor’s room.
In reference to software and hardware,
“To set up for use or service.”
Ex. They are installing Adobe Photoshop on my computer so I can edit photos.
Upon reviewing the meanings of “install,” one can see that they all involve putting something into place, be it a person or an object. As can be observed with both “instill” and “install,” they are not too far off from their root words, and it will help to remember where these two come from.
To further demonstrate the uses of these two words, here are a few more examples:
The local government aims to instill a sense of purpose in their subjects, which is why its officials called for the Regional Volunteer Drive.
Ambassador Bellise sought to extend her control over the Empire from behind the scenes, which is why she installed her well-loved yet weak-willed son Endrin on the throne.
I had to make sure that I followed the optometrist’s instructions: instill cleansing solution into my infected eye every six hours to keep it from drying out and accumulating more dirt.
As the previous class exits the room, I install myself on the front row so that I can listen closely and participate actively when my class starts.
One has to be careful in instilling the concentrated vanilla extract into the batter so that it does not overwhelm the other flavors.
Max did not know how to install ceilings fans and was loathe to ask his brother for assistance in performing the task.
Other than remembering the root words of “instill” and “install,” it can also help to look at the words’ differing letters and related words for easier recall. Instill has the letter I as in imparting knowledge and values. Install has the letter A as in installing appliances and applications.
We hope this article has helped to instill in you the difference between these two useful words. Watch out for the next installation of our Grammar Chaos series for more easy reads on proper word use. Until then, you can continue to send us your questions related to grammar and writing—we’ll answer them as soon as we can. Bye for now!
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