Is Irregardless a Word?

Irregardless is not a word—or is it?  It pops up again and again in common speech, people are using it in essays and papers, and even a few dictionaries have begun to include it.  What’s going on?

First of all, let’s look at the word itself.  Regardless literally comes from “regard less”—doing something without regard.  It means careless or heedless, or to do something despite some difficulty or trouble.  So, even though the weather looks bad, you can continue with your plans regardless.

So, what is irregardless?  The ir-prefix means “not”.  You can see that in words like irregular (not regular) or irresponsible (not responsible).  So “irregardless” would mean “not regardless”, or “not without regard”—or just careful or attentive.  It’s a double negative and doesn’t really make any literal sense.

That’s not how people use it, though—they use it as a synonym for regardless.  Linguists theorize that this came out of a mistake from people thinking about words like “irrespective” or “irregular” and just continuing that pattern, but the “-less” ending makes that unnecessary, and technically wrong.

That’s why you shouldn’t use irregardless in your essays.  It’s nonstandard, and makes your writing sound less professional.  A former paper or essay is supposed to be proper, academic writing, and using nonstandard words like irregardess or “might of” or “alright” can bias your reader against you.  It’s “wrong”, and can result in both lower grades and people not taking your argument seriously; after all, if you had a good point, couldn’t you express it in “proper” English?  To be on the safe side, you should avoid nonstandard English in your writing.

But “not a word”?  That’s harsh.  After all, what is a word?  What is language?  The point of language is to be able to communicate ideas, and people will know what you mean when you say “irregardless”.  It’s been used for nearly 100 years; it’s perfectly acceptable to use in casual speech.

It’s a difference between “prescriptivism” and “descriptivism”.  Prescriptivists try to explain what language should be.  It focuses on rules and standard forms, and proclaims what is and is not “correct” in a language.  Descriptivists, on the other hand, describe how language is actually used.  If a new word or phrase doesn’t follow previous rules, that’s OK—the rules can change.  Prescriptivists would say “irregardless” isn’t a word and you shouldn’t use it; descriptivists note that plenty of people use it, and therefore it’s a word.

Language changes constantly, with words falling in and out of use as time passes.  Words like “thee” and “thou” have fallen out of everyday use, while words like “won’t” or “aggravate” were considered wrong as recently as 100 years ago.  Maybe 100 years from now, “irregardless” will be considered a perfectly cromulant word to use in all sorts of settings.

Until then, though, try to avoid it in your essays.

If you’re not sure all your language is up to formal standards, why not stop by Wordsmith Essays’ order page?  Our international team of editors can help make sure that you’re getting the most out of your essay.  Check us out today!

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