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For All Intents and Purposes vs. For All Intensive Purposes

forallintentsandpurposes

Both for all intents and purposes and for all intensive purposes are widely used to mean “for all practical purposes” or “virtually.” But which one is correct? The standard idiom is for all intents and purposes, not for all intensive purposes, though if you were to say these two forms out loud it might be hard to tell the difference between the two.

The cause of the confusion is rooted in this phonetic similarity. For all intensive purposes is what is known as an eggcorn, a label invented in the early 2000s by linguist Geoffrey Pullum to describe words or phrases that are misheard and consequently reform into a new word or phrase. Like, for example, hearing someone say “acorn” and thinking they said “eggcorn,” which is how this phenomenon got its name. The difference is stark when written down, but when spoken, the two words sound very much alike. Unlike mondegreens, eggcorns generally retain the same meaning as the original form, as in the case of for all intensive purposes.

The nonstandard for all intensive purposes seems to have first appeared in the 1950s according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer, while a version of the standard idiom, “to all intents, constructions, and purposes,” is cited in the OED as early as 1546. Historically, the dominant form of the idiom was to all intents and purposes, but over the past several decades that has gradually waned as the “for” form has increased in popularity.

The number of linguistic features that change due to a simple mishearing are numerous. The word apron, for instance, used to begin with the letter n, but the audible difference between “a napron” and “an apron” is so infinitesimal that speakers removed the n entirely, assuming it was part of the word “an” rather than “napron.” The word orange has a similar story, as do scads of other words and phrases across numerous other languages.

All in all, right and wrong can be a bit fuzzy in language, but for now, for all intents and purposes, you should opt for the proper idiom over the eggcorn alternative. This is especially important in your writing, where the nonstandard for all intensive purposes cannot be misheard.

60 Comments

  1. Marilyn -  January 4, 2016 - 1:42 am

    Sorry Carol K., the correct pronoun for your sentence is, “My father made my brother and me read the dictionary.” Father is the subject, therefore the object pronoun is me. You can check yourself by making the sentence singular. You would not say, “My father made I read the dictionary.” I hear this more and more and I want to scream.

    Reply
    • Real Person -  January 31, 2016 - 11:33 am

      Quite frankly, Marilyn, the fact that so little as “My father made my brother and I read the dictionary” makes you want to scream is a bit sad… It’s a common mistake that does not in any way change the meaning of the sentence. I’d say you just need to lighten up a bit. There’s more to life than nitpicking at the grammar of others.

      Reply
      • Corrine Emge -  May 25, 2016 - 10:12 am

        I agree with Marilyn. I don’t correct people , but I do set my sons straight about proper grammar.
        They prefer to know. It runs in the family.
        My newest pet peeve is saying “I’m waiting on…”. It’s waiting FOR. This has been driving me nuts for years. I first heard the error, “waitin’ on” in Alabama when I was about 6. Even then I knew it was wrong. I remember saying as politely as a 5 year old could be, that waiters wait on people. It’s wait for.
        It brought chuckles from the southern family members . And it finally made its way north.

        Reply
    • emilio -  June 10, 2016 - 9:59 am

      I agree with you,especially when “I” and “me” are used incorrectly by politicians,news anchors,tv/radio show hosts etc,people who are paid to speak.

      Reply
  2. Word lover -  December 11, 2015 - 3:36 pm

    I agree with you. I also read somewhere recently the originally the. the word ask was pronounced “ax”…..something along those lines. I would look it up, because I can’t quite remember…….

    Reply
  3. 12lions3 -  December 3, 2015 - 10:07 am

    totally…got it!
    awsome!

    Reply
  4. Daniel Feder -  November 14, 2015 - 12:06 pm

    Could you speak to “could have” (could’ve) versus “could of?” I read several books by John Sanford (the “prey” novels) published by a major publisher and, presumably, thoroughly edited. The author repeatedly uses the construction “could of” in sentences like: “He could of gone out the window. ” That is just plain incorrect, isn’t it? I’ve seen it repeatedly in college papers where the authors (apparently) do not even know they mean could have.

    Reply
    • Daniel Feder -  November 14, 2015 - 1:24 pm

      meant could have

      Reply
    • sam E. -  November 23, 2015 - 5:22 pm

      I’m not sure, but I don’t think “could of” is incorrect. I definatley see how it could be an eggcorn.

      Reply
      • Ian Matthews -  November 25, 2015 - 2:47 pm

        “definitely”

        Reply
        • Marichor hon -  December 2, 2015 - 1:17 am

          Language barriers…

          Reply
      • rebecca -  January 2, 2016 - 11:50 pm

        would of, could of, etc.. is absolutely incorrect. It comes from writing phonetically and wrongly the conditional perfect. In informal speech, it contracts to would’ve, not “would of.”

        Reply
      • Corrine Emge -  May 25, 2016 - 10:24 am

        “Could of” is definitely wrong. Sadly so is your spelling of definitely. It’s not definately. An easy way to remember the spelling is to see the word “finite” in it.

        Reply
    • Michael C -  December 4, 2015 - 6:13 am

      I believe “could of” isn’t proper English….at least not according to proper English standards. However, many, if not most, everyday Americans use it. Nevertheless, if you break “could of” down to its basic meanings, the word “of” would not be correct to use in conjunction with “could”. We should say “could have”, but most of us don’t.

      Reply
      • Susan M -  January 3, 2016 - 3:36 pm

        Thank you! “Could of” is completely incorrect English. It is the result of a lazy tongue that Americans employ that make learning the language more difficult. As stated below, “could of” should be the contraction of could have (or) could’ve.

        Reply
    • Faith Stewart -  December 24, 2015 - 8:58 pm

      could’ve, would’ve, should’ve?

      Reply
    • Lig -  January 3, 2016 - 7:45 am

      I totally agree with you. Just like . . . he’s good ‘then’ her, instead of he’s good ‘than’ her, the ‘principle’ called the student, instead of the ‘principal’ called the student, and etc. . .

      Reply
      • John -  March 22, 2016 - 11:35 am

        Don’t you mean he’s gooder than her? :)

        Reply
    • tobeamiss -  March 20, 2016 - 6:50 am

      “Could of” is the eggcorn Or we’d shorten it to “could’f” :)

      Reply
  5. nestory joseph -  October 30, 2015 - 8:48 pm

    am nt good in english i need to learn who wl help me

    Reply
  6. Don -  October 28, 2015 - 6:24 am

    Like If you open a sofa store? And the name of it is … Sofa King

    Reply
    • mercedes -  October 29, 2015 - 11:13 am

      i like it

      Reply
    • James Brown -  February 1, 2016 - 4:46 am

      Sofa King? Sofa King WHAT???

      Reply
      • Corrine Emge -  May 25, 2016 - 10:36 am

        Seriously James… You don’t get the joke behind “sofa king”?
        Does anyone know that the name Kris Kringle, was originally Kristkindl, German for Christ child. I always wondered as a child why that one name was so different from Santa Claus even in its many translations, such as Sinter Clause (not sure of the spelling) it’s Dutch I believe.
        It was simply a misheard word over many many years which came to represent Santa instead of the Christ child.

        Reply
  7. Jeanette Masek -  October 23, 2015 - 3:50 pm

    I have been trying to discern whether “in a sense” or “in essence” is the original phrase, and which the mishearing to malapropism. “In a sense” seems more likely to be the initial intention, but the meanings are close, and I cannot tell. The first phrase suggest that what follows is one part of a more complex concept or pattern, and the latter suggests that what follows is the most important part. Any insights?

    Reply
    • Collin -  November 7, 2015 - 12:39 am

      I believe the two to be separate in origin as their meanings differ at least moderately.

      Reply
    • Alec Brady -  November 9, 2015 - 4:30 am

      Both phrases are used, and mean different things. “In essence” means “essentially, deep down, fundamentally, basically, at the root of the matter” while “in a sense” means “sort of, in a way, in some sense, in a manner of speaking”.

      In speech the phrases are distinguished by their stress patterns – “in ESS’nce” versus “innuh SENSE”

      Reply
      • Michael C -  December 4, 2015 - 6:16 am

        Yup…you hit it right on the button.

        Reply
      • tobeamiss -  March 20, 2016 - 6:51 am

        Perfect

        Reply
  8. DaveT -  October 21, 2015 - 12:39 pm

    In legal work, “a proximate cause” and “approximate cause” have totally different meanings. Try saying them both in a normal conversational tone and distinguish the difference!

    Reply
    • tobeamiss -  March 20, 2016 - 6:53 am

      Just because you can’t distinguish the difference, it doesn’t make it right to use :)

      Reply
  9. Rensky -  October 21, 2015 - 1:02 am

    Intent = wants

    Purposes = A physical form of a thing which design to do something neccessary in order to continue on existing.

    [ Intensive + porpuses] = needs

    Reply
  10. Jon Jay -  October 19, 2015 - 10:07 am

    I was brought-up to believe this phrase is “TO” all intents and purposes…!

    Reply
  11. John Beatty -  October 19, 2015 - 7:10 am

    There is an essayI remember which may be called “The is no Mayonnaise in Ireland” which deals with a person who constantly “mishears” things. In the case of the title, the original was “No man is an island”

    Reply
    • Angela Moretti -  February 17, 2016 - 8:12 am

      Which makes one wonder about County Mayo.

      Reply
  12. Alicis -  October 19, 2015 - 6:01 am

    Very interesting read.

    Reply
    • Nariya -  November 19, 2015 - 11:18 am

      I really liked this. :)

      Reply
      • Nariya -  November 19, 2015 - 11:19 am

        Like Alicis said, very interesting. :P :) :D

        Reply
  13. George Hanko -  October 14, 2015 - 10:25 pm

    Question: Nuclear and why do some American’s (President’s) say NUCELAR.

    My formal education in Austria after the 2. WW and not that great. My English is self taught (Self educated)
    Please don’t be to critical.

    Reply
    • Jeff -  November 8, 2015 - 4:50 am

      That is a Texas accent, I believe. In some other parts of the country, it can be heard among the poorly-educated, but in Texas it may be standard.

      Reply
      • Sloopy -  November 11, 2015 - 2:13 pm

        Sorry, I beg to disagree: that is not an accent. I have heard that mispronunciation from people from all over this country. I refer to that as “Sloppy Mouth Syndrome.” You find it also in the pronunciation of:”jewlary”(jewelry), “realator”(realtor), and “furmiliar”(familiar).
        I also find that these sorts of mispronunciations often occur with words people may have read, but never heard spoken.

        Reply
        • Word lover -  December 11, 2015 - 3:31 pm

          I believe it is an accent and not mis-pronunciation. My mother is from England and my father is an American. I was raised in America, but was ALWAYS corrected (by Americans) for my pronunciation of words. I spoke more like my mother because I was around her more than my father. Over the years my accent has been corrected and bullied out me. Once in a while the accent comes sneaking back in and I am again corrected. Keep in mind I don’t sound British to any American, they just think I don’t know how to speak correctly.
          I do agree that some people are just don’t know how to pronounce a word or sometimes have never heard the proper pronunciation of a/some words.

          Reply
        • James Brown -  February 1, 2016 - 4:51 am

          Jew-luh-REE? Yes. When I go downtown I hear it said much differently. Jew Ray…is the preferred way to pronounce jewelry. Talk about sloppy tongue dialect.

          Reply
      • Michael C -  December 4, 2015 - 6:23 am

        I have to agree with Jeff on this one. I think it’s a cultural and geographical thing. For example, I lived in The Bronx, New York all my life, and many of us in saying the word “ASK”, we sound like we’re saying “AX”. I am college education with 2 degrees, and I still struggle sometimes with that word. It’s a constant reminder to myself to pronounce the “S” and “K”. Some people I know say “RUFF” instead “ROOF”; and I know them as college educated.

        Reply
        • Carol K. -  December 25, 2015 - 8:25 am

          When I hear people on talk shows say “ax” instead of “ask” or “asked” it grates on my nerves. It’s even harder to say “ax” in the past tense “axed”, so I think it is deliberate in certain groups and isn’t just limited to Brooklyn. My father made my brother and I memorize several pages of the dictionary when we received a bad grade on our report card. He was so strict when it came to grammar.

          Reply
          • Marilyn -  January 4, 2016 - 1:35 am

            Sorry, Carol K., the correct pronoun is me. My father made my brother and me memorize the dictionary. Father is the subject, therefore you use me for the object. An easy way to see if you are correct, is make the sentence singular. You would not say, “My father made I read the dictionary.” I am starting to hear this everywhere, often on T. V. shows and I want to scream.

      • Ian -  June 18, 2016 - 10:14 am

        That is not a Texas accent. George Bush is just a bad speaker. However, for someone to generalize an entire state, they would truly have to be uneducated and willfully ignorant.

        Reply
    • tobeamiss -  March 20, 2016 - 6:57 am

      So Texans are ignorant? I don’t believe it’s accent related at all. Every time I heard George W Bush use the word “Nucelar”, it bugged me to no end!!

      Reply
  14. Dan -  October 13, 2015 - 4:06 pm

    It wasn’t all that long ago that I would have told you when one is searching for a job, that a rather significant factor one will take into account is the “French benefits”. Luckily, I discovered this personal eggcorn on my own before speaking it aloud….

    Reply
    • Michael C -  December 4, 2015 - 6:18 am

      That is funny…true

      Reply
    • tobeamiss -  March 20, 2016 - 7:00 am

      lol

      Reply
  15. r -  October 12, 2015 - 10:03 am

    bob is awesome

    Reply
  16. r -  October 12, 2015 - 10:03 am

    my name is bi**

    Reply
  17. Linda Herron -  October 10, 2015 - 5:27 am

    So long ago, my stepson ,the genius, patiently tried to correct me, and my ” I just know I’m right argument” so Christopher, with all my intent, and purpose, thank you. Smartest guy I’ve ever known…

    Reply
  18. Paul Thompson -  October 9, 2015 - 6:15 am

    Sounds like someone had a hearing problem. Isn’t funny how variations can get started.

    Reply
  19. HosseinGhanizadeh -  October 8, 2015 - 3:45 am

    Two month ago , I tried to subscribe for “word of the day” ,but my request was treated as “spam”.Why?

    Reply
    • bogart -  October 28, 2015 - 2:44 am

      Because you’re an afghan terrorist so they’re scared :)

      Reply
      • Word lover -  December 11, 2015 - 3:40 pm

        I see why your name is “bogart”.

        Reply
  20. elisabith -  October 7, 2015 - 6:19 pm

    cool

    Reply
  21. Kaila -  October 7, 2015 - 4:53 pm

    I’m sure that it makes sense that these 2 have different meanings

    Reply

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