The Grammarphobia Blog

Taking care of business

Q: After reading your post on “irregardless” I am left curious about “irrespective.” You seem to give it legitimacy, but its usage is rare and sounds awkward. Can you clarify its standing?

A: The word “irrespective” has been legitimate English for hundreds of years. And while I agree with you that it sounds a bit stiff these days, “irrespective” is hardly rare. In fact, I just googled it and got more than 17 million hits.

When it first showed up in the 1600s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “irrespective” meant disrespectful, but that sense of the word is now considered obsolete. (The word “respective” meant, among other things, respectful in the 1600s.)

“Irrespective” is now primarily used in the preposition “irrespective of,” meaning “regardless of” or “without consideration of.” The word has been used in this sense since the late 1600s.

The words “irrespective” and “irregardless” may have the negative prefix “ir-” in common, but the prefix serves a purpose in only one of them.

The prefix in “irregardless” is unnecessary, since this nonstandard word means the exact same as the older, standard adverb “regardless” (“in spite of everything”).

And, of course, the nonstandard preposition “irregardless of” means the same as the legitimate preposition “regardless of” (“in spite of”).

As I say in my post on “irregardless,” lexicographers think it probably developed as an inadvertent mushing together of two very similar words: “irrespective” and “regardless.”

All this talk about “irrespective” reminds me of Aretha Franklin’s version of the Otis Redding song “Respect”:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Take care, TCB.

Aretha added “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and “TCB.” She was taking care of business!

Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.