Q: I hear people saying things like “I intend on getting back to you” instead of “I intend to get back to you.” I wonder if they’re conflating “intend to” and “intent on.” It sounds incorrect to me. Or is “intend on” correct? I’m intent on knowing.
A: The verb “intend” has been used in more than two dozen ways since it showed up in English in the late 1300s, but most of them are now obsolete.
Today, it’s primarily followed by a noun (“I don’t intend offense”), a gerund (“The board intends meeting”), an infinitive (“She intends to write”), a clause (“The officer intends that we wait”), or a prepositional phrase (“The money was intended for a new school”).
You ask whether it’s legit to use the phrasal verb “intend on” with a gerund (or gerund phrase) as a direct object: “I intend on getting back to you.”
Merriam-Wester’s Dictionary of English Usage has this to say: “In speech and speechlike writing, it [intend] is sometimes followed by on and a gerund.” In other words, M-W considers the usage colloquial—that is, informal or conversational.
The usage guide offers this example from a 1981 letter to the Saturday Evening Post: “I intend on protecting myself and my loved ones.”
In Fowler’s Modern English Usage (rev. 3rd ed.), R. W. Burchfield describes the usage as an informal Americanism (“informal AME type”) and gives this example: “Don’t pick up a magazine unless you intend on buying it.”
A search of the Corpus of Contemporary American English suggests that the construction is more common in the US than Merriam-Webster’s suggests, while a search of the British National Corpus finds it negligible in the UK.
The usage is relatively recent, apparently showing up in the early 1970s, according to our searches of literary and news databases.
The first examples we’ve found are from a report of the Sept. 23-28, 1973, convention of the International Woodworkers of America in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The usage showed up several times at the convention, as in this comment by one speaker: “we intend on being the strongest, the most militant union anywhere on the North American continent.”
In our opinion, it’s acceptable for Americans to use “intend on” in conversation and informal writing, but we wouldn’t recommend it in formal contexts.
Is “intent on” responsible for the “intend on” usage? Our guess is that “plan on” is a more likely culprit. “I intend on sleeping late” is parallel to “I plan on sleeping late,” a standard construction.
The verb “intend” comes from the Latin intendere, which combines in- (towards) with tendere (to stretch).
As John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins explains, one of the meanings of intendere in Latin was to “ ‘direct’ or ‘stretch’ one’s thoughts toward something.”