Word Choice – Orient Versus Orientate

A BizWritingTip reader: “Could you comment on the use of ‘orient’ and ‘orientate’? I have always used orient and it drives me nuts to hear orientate, verbal and written.”

BizWritingTip response: This is the third question I have received on these words this week. There must be a lot of orientation in the workforce right now.

The two verbs, orient and orientate, both come from the same French word orienter meaning “to place facing the east,” and they both now mean “to familiarize with or to adjust to new surroundings.” Surprisingly, the shorter word came into being first – in the eighteenth century. Orientate was not used until the middle of the nineteenth.

However, both words are now considered equally acceptable. Orientate is probably more common in Britain, while orient seems the preferred form in the U.S. The Oxford Canadian Dictionaryaccepts both, defining orient (as it comes first) and then referring the reader to orient when it comes to orientate.

Examples (equally correct)

It should take everyone about a month to orient themselves to the new procedure.

It should take everyone about a month to orientate themselves to the new procedure.

Frankly, although orient is my word of choice, I do occasionally use orientate when it sounds better in a sentence.