The Grammarphobia Blog

The right orientation

Q: Hi! I would like to know if it is correct to use “orientate” instead of “orient.”

A: Although “orientate” is a very common usage in Britain, the simpler and older and more straightforward “orient” is preferred in the United States.

The verb “orientate” originated in the mid-19th century and may be a back-formation from the noun “orientation.” (A back-formation is a word created by dropping a prefix or suffix from an existing word – in this case, dropping the “ion” at the end of “orientation.”)

The noun “orientation” itself is derived from “orient,” which was originally both an adjective and a noun. By the 18th century, however, “orient” had also evolved into a verb.

“Orientate,” the longer word that’s popular in Britain, is considered a needless variant by most American usage experts. It’s easy to see why. The verb “orient” is older and more succinct. But the British have their ways, we have ours.

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