My English professor suggested yesterday that the expression "with respect to", despite being frequently used is simply wrong. He said that one should rather use "in respect of", which in turn is not very common. Can a native speaker confirm this? I have seen this expression so often, even in scientific texts, that I quite simply cannot believe that this is incorrect English.

  • 13
    Your professor's personal version of English is very unusual. If you'd like to learn his version, listen to him. If you'd like to talk like most people, don't.
    – user28567
    Nov 5, 2013 at 7:40
  • 5
    Your professor knows less about English than you do. Take your money and run.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 5, 2013 at 9:03
  • The expression 'with respect to' is regarded as a complex or compound (multi-word) preposition and defined here and here. Compare: with (in) regard to (with respect to, concerning): With respect to your request for a two-week delay in the due payment of annual interest on the above-mentioned note, we regret that it is contrary to the policy of this organization to grant such requests. Nov 5, 2013 at 11:14
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    Your professor is probably trying to decompose what has become a fixed expression in English (as the dictionary references above show). Saying that 'in respect of' is more correctly structured than 'with respect to' is rather like saying that the expression 'by and large', which would seem to coordinate a preposition and an adjective, shouldn't be used. But it is. 'Usage [almost?] always trumps prescriptive rules.' Nov 5, 2013 at 11:30
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    Perhaps you could ask your professor what he meant; he's sposta be teaching you about being clear, after all. In respect of is no righter than with respect to; it's a formal phrase with little modern currency, because the occasions where it was customary no longer occur. The two have identical structures, though they do use somewhat different senses of respect; the one in with respect to simply means 'aspect; point of view'. He may be thinking of the positive emotional sense of respect. Nov 5, 2013 at 15:41

4 Answers 4


Have a look at points 8 & 9 here.

While the expression "with respect to" does exist, and is synonymous with "in respect of" ('concerning or in relation to'), it also has a slightlу different, pragmatic, usage: with respect to can be a means of making a text cohesive and coherent (giving reference to something already mentioned or introducing a new subject).

Both in respect of and with respect to are generally used as complex prepositions in formal texts (here is an example of the former).

You can google more using inverted commas and adding 'bbc' to get a reliable source.


The phrase "with respect to" is commonly used in mathematical proofs. In fact, many would consider it jargon, as it is used in the description of a relation between two variables. For example, "a function f over the value x, with respect to the value y", as a way of expressing f(x) = y in words. To call the phrase into question is to disregard literally hundreds of years of existing mathematical literature. Whether or not it's prescriptive, the extant works make it descriptively part of the English language.


You should almost always avoid using either of them. Both are pompous and obscure pieces of civil service speak. You should particularly avoid using them in documents to be read by people who do not have English as their first language Even worse is the abbreviation w.r.t. which is often used where a phrase including some form of the word 'compare' is more appropriate, such as 'compared to'. I was asked to explain w.r.t. by a Norwegian colleague just moments ago, in his case I was able to recast the sentence and use the word 'lighter' instead. I don't understand why Christian P. was voted down unless it is for not answering the question head on, so I expect that will be my fate too.


Maybe he just doesn't like it? For instance, the phrase is terribly overused in legal writing. Since most writing is better understood if concisely done, a preposition that is 3 words long seems unnecessary - use concerning, regarding, or pertaining to instead. Why not just say: "I'm sorry, but we cannot grant your request to pay this year's annual interest two weeks late."


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