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08/10/02: Regarding "Irregardless"

This tip could be summed up in a single sentence: do not use "irregardless."

While it is certainly a commonly heard word, its usage is considered substandard because the word is illogical. "Regardless" already means "without regard," so when we add the negative prefix "ir-," we create a double negative. In essence, we end up saying "not without regard," which means, of course, "with regard"--the opposite of what we intend.

Using the word "irregardless" is an easy mistake to make. After all, we say "irrespective" to mean "without respect to," so it is natural to jump to the conclusion that "irregardless" means "without regard." But the difference between these two words is the suffix "-less," which itself makes "regardless" negative.

The prefix in the English language that starts with the letter "i" and makes words negative is "in-." It has three inflected forms: "il-," "im-," and "ir-." The form "il-" is used with words starting with the letter "l," as in "illogical." The "im-" form prefixes words beginning with the letters "b," "m," or "p"- "imbalance," "immoral," and "impractical," for example. The "ir-" inflection is used to prefix words that begin with the consonant "r"- "irreducible," "irreconcilable," "irresponsible," and so on. We use the basic prefix "in-" before all other letters, as in the words "inconclusive" and "inapplicable."

Complicating the issue of the meaning of negative prefixes is the fact that these common "in-" prefixes in English also mean "in," "into," "within," "toward," "on," or "upon"-something quite the opposite of "not."

We thus have the adjective "inflammable," which does not mean "not flammable" or "not capable of flaming" but in fact means "capable of bursting INTO flames." The noun "illegality" means "something not legal," but the noun "illation" means "the act of inferring" or (in its literal Latin meaning) "the act of bringing something IN."

Likewise, we have the verb "irradiate" and the noun "irradiance," which do not mean "not radiating" or "not shining" but "radiating from WITHIN" or "shining ON." The adjective "impossible" means "not possible," but the verb "imperil" means "to put IN peril," just as the verb "impose" means "to put UPON."

These examples are but a few of the many confusing issues surrounding the use of words in the English language. Perhaps there is only one reliable rule when it comes to word usage: purchase a good dictionary and use it often.

Copyright 2002 Get It Write



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