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To emigrate means to leave a country, so I'm confused that people use the word where I would expect the word "immigrate", eg. "He emigrated to Italy." How do you "leave to" a place?

I checked Google to see the numbers for "emigrate to" and "emigrate from". To my surprise, the "emigrate to" usage was 3.5x more common (3.5 million results)!

I found a related construct, "He emigrated from Spain to Italy." This one makes sense to me, but I don't see how you can leave out the "from Spain" part and still have a logical sentence.

Are those 3.5 million people doing it wrong?

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    Most speakers don't worry about the difference, since often it is simply the number of movements that's relevant, not the direction they went. Plus, every act of emigration is also an act of immigration, so how does one distinguish what to call it? Feb 28 at 15:23
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    He went from his home. He went to Wigan. Feb 28 at 15:25
  • @EdwinAshworth I don't know... "went" seems to be temporary here (or is it?). Emigrating is a permanent thing..
    – Justin
    Feb 28 at 15:29
  • prowritingaid.com/art/1172/…
    – Justin
    Feb 28 at 15:36
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    @Justin Just pointing out (as JL implies) that verbs of translocation (move; walk, journey, fly ...) are regularly used with prepositional phrases showing either starting point or point of arrival (/destination if the journey isn't [yet] completed) (or direction) (or just about any permutation). // True, emigrate/immigrate convey far more than 'go' etc, but like 'leave' are still used with prepositional phrases showing either starting point or place of arrival (probably not 'northwards' though). Feb 28 at 15:51
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It depends on the context, and on the place we are mainly talking about.

He was born in Scotland but emigrated to Canada.

The principal point is that he left Scotland. Emigrated means "went", and further details are given by saying where he went.

We could just say he went from Scotland, but we may as well say where he went.

However if we were thinking about Canada we might say

Like many famous Canadians he immigrated from Scotland.

Here we mean he came to Canada, and the place he came from was Scotland.

In the same way if we know somebody was in London we say he went to Liverpool. But if we now know he is in Liverpool we say he came from London. Or we could just say he came to Liverpool, or went from London without specifying further.

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    Immigrated and emigrated are like came and went. However, they both imply a transition of some significance in a person’s life. In my personal opinion, we use them interchangeably because the transition itself is important, as well as the “sense of place” at the beginning and end of the trip. Feb 28 at 18:08

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