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Why is irrespective considered a proper word but irregardless is not?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The "ir" in "irrespective" means "not", i.e. "not respective". So "irregardless" would mean "not regardless", which would mean the opposite of what you probably hope it would mean.

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I agree. But the situation with irregardless is that people mean "regardless" and so we have two words, that appear to be antonyms, which are actually synonyms. Reminds me of "inflammable" and "flammable". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 18 '10 at 15:57
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@Mr. Shiny and New: Yet people don't have any trouble with "inflammatory". –  mmyers Sep 15 '10 at 20:13
    
@mmyers: Never thought of that. Odd :) –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 16 '10 at 14:53
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I have to add (because it is a reminder of one of my most ignominious defeats) that 'irregardless' has fought its way into most dictionaries. Here's M-W: - The most frequently repeated remark about it (irregardless - bev) is that “there is no such word.” There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. . Sad but true. –  bev Dec 1 '10 at 23:37
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I think the case of "flammable"/"inflamable" is completely different. The prefix "in-" of "inflammable" does not mean "not", but in/into". The latin prefix "in-" can have either meaning, see for example personal.kent.edu/~rlarson/words/latin/latpref.html –  Luis Mendo Oct 1 '13 at 11:31
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A proper word must not be redundant by mere inclusion of a prefix. In this case, both words make use of the prefix "ir-", which in most cases creates an antonym of the word without that prefix, e.g. something that is "relevant" is that complete opposite of something not pertinent to the matter at hand, or "irrelevant".

First examining the proper word "irrespective", we have "respective" when removing the "ir-" prefix. "Respective" carries a meaning much like "with regard to", reserving an importance that had been or will be established. Hence, "irrespective" should mean "without regard to", which it does quite nicely when the preposition "of" follows.

Now, we remove the prefix "ir-" from the widely-recognized though improper word "irregardless" and have "regardless", a word used to indicate contrast. Very often, "regardless" can stand alone without a preposition immediately afterward. This usage of "regardless" gives such synonyms as "nonetheless", "nevertheless", and "even so". When "regardless" is followed by "of", the writer states that something is true despite whatever may be the object of that "of".

The redundancy of and lack of purpose for "irregardless" becomes strikingly obvious as we include the prefix "ir-" once more, since we might note that there is no apparent difference in meaning between "regardless" and "irregardless". While English is not likely the most logical language, we should nevertheless see a sharp contrast between these two words, with the prefix causing "irregardless of" to mean "in light of" or "with regard to", which is not a documented usage of the word. However, this is the correct usage of "irrespective of", which does not duplicate the meaning of the word to which the prefix "ir-" is added.

Consequently, "irregardless" should never be used in any formal writing or even in formal speech, as it accomplishes nothing other than to weaken the meaning of "regardless". When "of" does not naturally follow, use "regardless" or one of the synonyms discussed. When of naturally follows, either "irrespective of" (my personal preference whenever suitable) or "regardless of" can substitute marvelously!

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In a recent video, my favorite Merriam-Webster editor warns against calling "irregardless" a non-word.

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In addition to the prefix/suffix duplication, irregardless is used rarely. A COCA query shows 11189 hits for regardless and only 36 for irregardless. That's a reason for it to not be considered a proper word.

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I don't see how the number of appearances in COCA suggests anything about a word's properness. 'tremulant' only has two hits, while 'cromulent' has eight. The Corpus is a measure of rarity, not correctness. –  ladenedge Aug 18 '10 at 19:46
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@ladenedge The concept of properness is ill-defined. People who write dictionaries are faced with what words to include and what meaning to ascribe to those words. This is particularly relevant when adding new words. Part of this decision has to do with how commonly and consistently they are used. In order to evaluate these factors they use a corpus. This is also how they identify idioms, collocations, and alternate meanings. Researchers even use special corpora based on text from learners to find typical mistakes such as using words like 'irregardless'. –  Chris Aug 19 '10 at 12:35
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Some people use "irregardless" for “regardless” but many people think it is incorrect. It is probably a combination of "irrespective" and "regardless" which is sometimes used humorously.

Oxford Dictionary says:

Irregardless means the same as regardless, but the negative prefix ir- merely duplicates the suffix -less, and is unnecessary. The word dates back to the 19th century, but is regarded as incorrect in standard English.

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An informal example: The photographer always says, irregardless of how his subjects are feeling, ‘Smile!’ –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Aug 18 '10 at 12:43
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It is like "misunderestimate", where "misunderstand" and "underestimate" were conflated. Only "irregardless" has become so widespread that, at some point in the future, people might not even think twice about using it. –  Kosmonaut Aug 18 '10 at 13:18
    
The OED says “In non-standard or humorous use: regardless.” –  tchrist May 23 '12 at 12:23
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