There’s a contentious debate going on right now, and it’s time to pick which side you’re on. No, it’s not whether Trump or Clinton should be the next US president. It also isn’t whether Apple or Samsung produces better phones. It’s whether “irregardless” is a word.
Yup, we’re serious about this. We know that grammar usually doesn’t make it onto the list of sexy, gossip-worthy, water cooler topics. But once in a while (not “awhile”), a grammar debate makes heads turn and tempers flare. One of these fiery debates focuses on the word “irregardless.”
Unlike some commons terms that are universally recognized by grammar experts as being incorrect (e.g., “to hone in on”), things aren’t so black and white when it comes to “irregardless.” Whereas some people firmly believe that “irregardless” isn’t a word, others argue that it is. Even grammar gurus are divided on this. Why? Let’s dive into it.
The Definition of “Irregardless”
When people use “irregardless,” they’re saying that something happens or will happen despite some sort of circumstance. Essentially, they use it in place of “regardless.” So you might see “irregardless” pop up in sentences like these:
- “I’ll meet with the client tomorrow irregardless of how far we are on the work.”
- “We’ll keep searching irregardless of how dark it gets.”
- “The cupcakes taste good regardless of whether we add almond extract to them.”
In each of these cases, we’re saying that something is a certain way or will take place no matter what happens with another situation.
Why People Say “Irregardless” Isn’t a Word
You’ll find the word “irregardless” in reputable dictionaries, including the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. So why do some people think it isn’t a word?
Well, even though you can find “irregardless” in the dictionary, you’ll notice something about its dictionary entry. In most cases, a dictionary entry for “irregardless” will tell you that the word is “nonstandard.” This means that “irregardless” isn’t a conventional word in the English language. And some people take it to mean that it isn’t an acceptable English word. The woman who made grammar cool again, Grammar Girl, falls into this camp.
People in this camp will also tell you that “irregardless” isn’t a word because it doesn’t make sense. Their argument is that the “less” in “regardless” already represents a negative. When you say “regardless,” you’re saying that something will happen without regard for something else or without paying attention to it. It’s just like saying that “less” in “thoughtless” negates “thought.” Someone who is “thoughtless” doesn’t think about other people’s feelings.
The initial “ir” in “irregardless” adds yet another negative to the word (in the same way that “ir” is the negative in “irresponsible”). People point out that because “irregardless” has two negative markers, they cancel each other out and actually change the meaning of the word. After all, if you’re going to not not pay attention to something, it means you’re going to pay attention to it. So according to people in this camp, if “irregardless” is a word, it’s massively misused.
Why Other People Say “Irregardless” Is a Word
Remember, though, that there’s another camp out there: the people who believe “irregardless” is a word. This camp includes bloggers who publish in major media outlets and the grammar app provider Grammarly.
How can people in this camp possibly think they’re right when the other camp has such a solid argument against them? Well, these people don’t think the other camp’s argument is all that solid.
The main point that people in this camp make is that “irregardless” is a word because it’s a term that people use in speech and writing. Without getting too technical here (we don’t want to put you too sleep, after all), one of the dominant branches of linguistics says that language is defined by the words people actually use in everyday life, not by rules made up by an elite few. People in the “is a word” camp argue that “irregardless” is a word because it’s used so frequently that major dictionaries recognize it as a word (even if they label it as “nonstandard”).
So Can I Use “Irregardless” in My Writing?
Although most dictionaries recognize “irregardless” as a real word, a lot of people think it’s flat out wrong. (Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the situation).
Because many educated people think “irregardless” is the slang of someone who isn’t well-educated, we recommend not using it in formal writing. Want to use it when you’re out for a night on the town with your friends? Go ahead. But unless you want people to think you don’t know English, keep it out of your web copy, brand content, and reports. Just like starting a sentence with a conjunction (e.g., “and” or “but”) can get you into trouble for no reason, so can using “irregardless.”
So what’s wrong with this sentence: “I’ll meet with the client tomorrow irregardless of how far we are on the work”?
Well, everything and nothing. It all depends on whether you believe “irregardless” is or isn’t a word. But for the sake of seeming competent to the people who matter, write as though everything is wrong with “irregardless” even if you know it may not be.
Want to read about other legit words that have a bad rap? Check out our posts on starting sentences with conjunctions (e.g., “and,” “so,” and “but”) and ending sentences with prepositions (e.g. “with” and “of”).
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