Imitate vs emulate

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Imitate and emulate are two words that are often confused. We will examine the difference between the definitions of the words imitate and emulate, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Imitate means to copy something, to follow something as a model or to simulate something. The word imitate may take on the connotation of unflattering mimicry, or it may take on the connotation of a counterfeit representation of something. Imitate is a transitive verb, which is a verb that takes an object. Related words are imitates, imitated, imitating, imitator, imitation. The word imitate is derived from the Latin word imitatus, which means copy or portray.

Emulate also refers to imitating someone, but it means to match that person in importance or success, or to surpass that person in importance or success. Emulate carries the connotation of wishing to excel by patterning oneself on someone else who is worthy of esteem. The word emulate is also a transitive verb, related words are emulates, emulated, emulating, emulator, emulation. Emulate is derived from the Latin word aemulator, which means an imitative rival.


Many of Maine high school coaches try to have their players to imitate the NBA or D-1 very athletic players who rely primarily on their athleticism and not basketball fundamental skills or basketball IQ’s. (The Bangor Daily News)

In happier times, the retail industry was something for politicians to cultivate and imitate — a symbiotic relationship I wrote about in my last book, Shopping For Votes. (The Toronto Star)

Sebastian Coe calls on athletes to emulate Usain Bolt to save their sport: ‘They have to have an opinion and dominate a room… it’s important!’ (The Daily Mail)

On the eve of Yom-e-Ashur tomorrow on Sunday former President Mr Asif Ali Zardari has called upon the people to emulate the example of the great Imam in resisting tyranny and injustice. (The Nation)