Thursday, February 5, 2009

English Language: Irregardless is NOT a word! Setting the Record Straight...

The hot topic in my world this week has been the word (or should I say, non-word) irregardless.

On Tuesday I had an article that I wrote on word stress published in the Recruit section of The Straits Times newspaper. Usually these articles bring some nice publicity, but this time, the editors made some terrible changes to my original work and made most of the mistakes in their writing (which now looks like MY writing) that I always teach people to avoid! One of those changes was inserting the (non-) word irregardless. I mean really, even a spell check in Word will highlight that error!

When I changed my Facebook status to reflect my unhappiness with the vandalism of my work (especially the insertion of irregardless) I was surprised by how many messages I received from friends saying "Thanks for making that clear," "I hear people saying that all the time!" and "You should teach this stuff in America!" I knew that irregardless was a normal word in the Singapore vernacular, but wasn't aware of how wide-spread it is other places.

Irregardless in America
After a bit of research on the subject, I've actually learned (as stated in Adam Brown's Singapore English in a Nutshell) that the word irregardless is listed as a word in the American Dialect Dictionary and was recorded in western Indiana in 1912. He goes on to explain that the Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that most Americans agree that "it is not a word," but many continue to use it anyway!

So let's set the record straight. What is it about this word that gets everybody so confused?

Setting the record straight
Let's start with the base word, regard.
Regard can be used as a verb or noun, but we are going to focus on the noun form here. has several definitions, but the most appropriate one for our uses now is:
#12. thought; attention; concern.

Now, look up regardless. This word is not a noun, but an adjective or adverb:
1.having or showing no regard; heedless; unmindful (often fol. by of).
2. without concern as to advice, warning, hardship, etc.; anyway: I must make the decision regardless.

We use the word regardless to describe an action or mindset that does not show thought, attention or concern. It's an action taken without regard. The suffix -less negates the noun, regard to show this meaning.

So what's wrong with irregardless?
In English, the prefix ir- is also used to negate the meaning of words, for example revocable and irrevocable. By adding ir- to regardless, we actually form a double negative. It's like saying, "not without regard" or in other words, "regard." Get it?

Where does irregardless come from?
The best guess is that people are confusing irrespective and regardless, which are two words with basically identical meanings. Somehow the ir- from irrespective gets thrown onto the beginning of regardless, creating the non-word.

It is not however due to any tense changes as one astute reader pointed out in his email to me:
"I hear people in conversation using this 'irregardless' word, oblivious of the fact that the past tense of 'respective' is 'irrespective.' But the past tense of 'regard' is not 'irregardless' but 'regardless'."

Although he is correct about the non-word irregardless, his reasoning is not at all correct. Only verbs have tenses and respective is not a verb, but an adjective. Regard can be used as a verb, but in that case, its past tense would not be regardless, but would be regarded. I think that the reader meant to explain that the negative form of respective is irrespective, but the negative form of regard is not irregardless, but regardless.

A solution
Seeing how confusing this regard/regardless/irregardless issue can be, why are people using the word regardless at all? It's long and gets even more complicated when we have to add the preposition of. Here's an example of how we can remove the word from our vocabulary and speak more simply.

Regardless of what you think of this word, take it out of your vocabulary.

Change to:
No matter what you think of this word, take it out of your vocabulary.

How widespread of a problem do you think this is? Do you hear people use regardless and irregardless interchangeably? Share your stories and opinions in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. In our family, and with close friends, we use the fabulous triple negative, non-word irdisregarless!! It's a great way to poke fun at the misuse of the word regardless. That being said, I will admit that a few people still think it is actually a word the first time they hear it.

    Irdisregardless, it's a family favorite that we continue to use.