Do you “orient” yourself, or “orientate” yourself?

By Simon Kewin

This is a common source of disagreement. Both “orient” and “orientate” are verbs meaning to align or position yourself; to work out where you are within a particular situation or environment. The origin of both words is the same : the Latin word oriens meaning “rising” and “east”, because of the rising sun.

Orient as a noun means the countries of the East, especially those of east Asia. Strictly speaking, then, to orient/orientate yourself means to align yourself to the east, although the verb now has the general sense of “to position yourself”.

In the UK, it is more common for people to say “orientate” whereas in the US, “orient” is more common. Writers in both countries sometimes bemoan the usage of the alternative word. In fact, both words are acceptable according to the dictionaries.

The Oxford English Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary list “orient” and “orientate” as verbs meaning the same thing. Which one you choose to use really just comes down to local preference. To a UK reader, “orient” may well sound non-standard, whereas “orientate” may sound clumsy to a US reader. Other parts of the world will have their own preferences. The key thing to remember is that both forms of the verb are generally acceptable.

As an aside, the opposite of Orient (the noun) is “Occident” : the countries of the West. There is, however, no equivalent verb. You can neither “occident” nor “occidentate” yourself. The closest verb is occidentalize, meaning to conform to western ideas or customs.

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34 Responses to “Do you “orient” yourself, or “orientate” yourself?”

  • Paul

    I saw in the Oxford English Dictionary that the presently UK – preferred form of the verb participle, oriented, has evolved in preference to orientated. The OED did not find such a form of the verb before mid – 19th Century, apparently, and the Merriam – Webster doesn’t show the use of orientated before about 1950. So, language evolves, not too big a deal, although I still really don’t like to hear or read “orientated” in American dialect. I’m trying to get used to it, just as I’m still trying to avoid cringing at the pronunciation of data with a short a, the misuse of that word, data, for datum, and other constructions or pronunciations that seem odd to me. However, orientated apparently is here to stay, so I’m not going to write any more crabby comments about its use to AP writers (often the worst for grammar and spellings). I will persist, however, in my crabby notes about really bad grammar and spelling, and suggest that writers use spelling and grammar checkers where they are available. I wish they were available here.

  • tracey

    Living in the ‘former British colony’ of Australia I would definitely say ‘orientate’. I had a chuckle with my spouse whose ancestors were from ‘the Orient’. We both agree to ‘orient’ oneself is to do things in the Chinese way….and we do a lot of that too.

  • anthony hartnell

    orientate is wrong because it is a back formation of the noun, orientation.

  • trav

    People, I just happened upon this discussion and, by George, has it been entertaining!! My daughter and I laughed our eyes dry with your linguistic antics. And Ward, there was total hilarity with your
    “You used the wrong “its.” It’s = it is. When chiding and correcting others, it’s best to ascertain whether one’s own house is in order first.” Dastardly stuff!!
    Although I live in America now, I grew up in a former British colony so I had to be very intentional about leaving out the “u” out of words like color and neighbor. However, I can’t say that in all my growing up years I’ve ever heard the word “orientate” and thought well of it. Some British announcer guy just said it a bit ago and the search led me here. I learned alot. Or is it a lot? 🙂 Really. Thanks all!!

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