Q&A: Regardless vs Irregardless

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdnessThis week, we're sending purists our kind irregards, regardless…

Q: Hey AWC – I keep seeing people use “irregardless” everywhere, but I’m sure it should just be “regardless”, right?

A: Yes, that’s right. Have a good day.

Q: Oh. Um, okay.

A: Were you hoping for a longer explanation?

Q: Ah yeah, we may not get sign off on this column if it’s too short.

A: Okay, easy. Ask me about why it’s in the dictionary.

Q: Oh, good idea. Ahem. SO then why is “irregardless” in the dictionary if I’m not supposed to use it? It’s very confusing.

A: Great question; one of your best. Yeah, most dictionaries these days are what they call “descriptive” – they describe the current trends in English. The Macquarie Dictionary lists it but it also includes a kind of big asterisk with it.

Q: Ah, I think you have that wrong. Obelix was the big one. And I think Snowy was the dog.

A: No, we mean that the dictionary makes a big deal of saying that “irregardless” is non-standard English.

Q: How very dogmatic of them. Oh wait – Dogmatix was the dog!

A: They do feel it necessary to acknowledge that “irregardless” exists. It would be silly to ignore the elephant in the room.

Q: My Uncle Dion did that very thing. It’ll be two years next month since the zoo accident. We miss him terribly.

A: Um, okay. So the reason why people like using “irregardless” so much is probably because it feels familiar – a blend of “regardless” and “irrespective”. They see other words with the negative “ir” prefix and it just rolls off the tongue.

Q: That reminds me of my Aunt Carol who’s a dentist and–

A: No, let’s keep going shall we. There are plenty of similar words, such as “irregular” or “irreversible”, “irrational”, “irrefutable”…

Q: “Irritating”?

A: No, not that. The “ir” changes the rest of the word negatively. So “respective”, “regular”, “reversible”, “rational” and “refutable” all have their meanings flipped.

Q: But why can’t “irregardless” work that way?

A: Because it already has a negative suffix doing the same thing! The “-less” on the end does the same job – so adding “ir” on the front cancels it out.

Q: Wow, that word shows such little regard for the English language. It’s quite regardless really.

A: Okay, no. You’re looking for “disregard” – another prefix that does the opposite act. You’ll find it on words like “disappear” and “disassemble”.

Q: Or “disappoint”?

A: Hmmm – no, that’s an unusual case.

Q: So, to recap – “irregardless” is listed in the dictionary, but you shouldn’t use it because it is the laughing stock of purists everywhere.

A: Yeah, that’s accurate. And in 100% of cases, it can be replaced seamlessly with the word “regardless” or “irrespective” depending on the context it was clumsily jammed into.

Q: Great work. I think we did well fleshing that out. Irresourceful we are NOT!

A: Oh dear…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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