Inter vs. Intra: A Simple Trick to Remember the Difference

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Writers often mix up the prefixes inter- and intra- as they seem to have similar meanings, but today, I want to teach you a simple trick to keep them straight.

Inter versus Intra

I play kickball on a league in Denver, and if you haven't tried playing this playground game as a grown person, I highly recommend it. We're trying something different for the fall season and playing cup-in-hand, which, for those who are not familiar, is kickball with a solo cup of beer in your hand at all times. It makes catching balls much more challenging.

I was talking about my team with someone this past weekend, and they asked, “Oh, it's like intramural kickball?” I said yes, although it is weird to hear someone use the word intramural outside of college.

Also, it's definitely intramural, not intermural. But what's the difference?

Definition: Inter- vs. Intra-

Both inter- and intra- are common prefixes, meaning they are added to root words to add to or change the meaning of a word. (Note: that's also why when written alone, they have the hyphen next to them, to indicate that they aren't a word in and of themselves.)

The prefix intra- means “within,” and specifically within one thing.

The prefix inter- means “between” or “among,” specifically between two or more things.

Examples of Inter- and Intra-

The word intramural literally means “within walls” and refers to things that occur within the walls of a school, or things that are self-contained.

The word interstate means “between states” in reference to a highway or road that goes between states.

Interstates maintain the same highway number across the country because they are connecting the states. If you made reference to an intrastate highway, that road would go by a name or number that only residents of that state would be familiar with.

The word international refers to something that happens between countries; international travel is when you move from one country to another.

What's the Difference Between Inter- vs. Intra-?

So how do you keep them straight?

“Intra-” is always within one thing/ person/ organization.

“Inter-” is always between two or more things/ people/ organizations.

One example that might help is internet versus intranet.

The internet, as I think we're all aware, covers the globe, and anyone with a connection can access it from anywhere in the world.

An intranet, on the other hand, is only accessible to a certain group of people, usually from the same company.

My office has an intranet where we can access the company newsletter and place lunch orders for each Friday, but most of our daily work takes place on the internet.

It can be tough to distinguish the two prefixes, especially when saying them out loud gets confusing, but remembering whether the word is referring to something self-contained or something bridging gaps can help sort through that spelling dilemma.

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Did you play intramural sports in college? Which ones? Share in the comments.

PRACTICE

Here's your prompt: Your character has a crush. They met playing intramural kickball, but now it's summer, and the crush is traveling internationally so most of their interactions happen over the internet.

Write about your character and their crush for fifteen minutes, using inter- and intra- correctly. When your time is up, post your practice in the writing box below. And if you post, be sure to give feedback on a few practices by other writers.

Good luck!

Enter your practice here:

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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5 Comments

  1. Jay Warner

    This subject reminds me of a funny story from my father’s childhood growing up near Arlington, Texas in the 1930s. The Texas Electric Railway operated an interurban trolley system between nearby cities, including Dallas, and my dad and his brothers sometimes rode this line to a (then) small town called Irving. My dad, being small and having a Texan drawl, could not understand the word “interurban” or that it connected “between” cities. In his boyhood wisdom, he called the trolley an “inter Irving” because it went in ter Irving. To this day that’s how I remember the difference between “inter” and “intra”.

    Reply
  2. zeus

    We often play Caro game together in school. That is intramural sport that is very popular in Vietnam. People that want to join that game will register. Then two people will play together. the person that win will continue to play with other person until there is noone to play, that person will become a champion.
    I also often celebrate that game on my company now. Everyone likes to join it and they feel to relaxing after playing it.

    Thanks

    Reply
  3. Katie Hamer

    At school, I’d rather have been looking up the difference between intra and inter than being involved in sports of any kind. I have to admit I wasn’t very sporty. I was always picked last, if there is such a thing as being picked last, not that I let it bother me. The only thing I hated more than sport was triple math!

    Looking back on it, the most positive thing I can say about sport at school is that doing something you don’t like makes you appreciate the time you have to do things you enjoy all the more. And, weirdly, I’m more active now, then some of my more sporty school mates are!

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Bamesberger

    You never quite get around to explaining your reasoning for nixing the inter prefix for sports. At my tiny private school, we have “intramurals” every Friday where we play games on mixed grade-level teams. We are thinking of forming an orchestra, in which there would be kids from outside of our school, between schools. So, wouldn’t that be an intermural orchestra?

    Reply

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