December 15, 2011

Weekly Language Usage Tips: regard/regards & verb phrases: wouldn’t/couldn’t

Posted in regard/regards, regards, verb phrases, wouldn't/couldn't at 6:37 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Regards or regard for the last time (I hope)!

I just reviewed an IRB protocol that included this sentence:

We plan to conduct quantitative analysis of objective data obtained in regards to BMI, blood pressure, waist circumference, cholesterol levels, and glucose levels.

So what do you think made me weep a little when reading this sentence? Of course, ‘in regards to.’ This topic has come up every year since the WLUT began in January of 2008. This will be the fifth time I have addressed the topic—first in March 2008, then a year later in April 2009, next in July 2010, and most recently, in January 2011. I haven’t looked it up to check, but five times? Yikes! This just may be the most frequent topic of all! But why? It shouldn’t be so hard. Maybe if I write bigger…

Stop using ‘in regards to.’ ‘Regards’ is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

The correct, albeit wordy, expression would be ‘in regard to.’ No S on regard. Without the S, it means ‘concerning,’ or ‘about,’ or ‘regarding’—all of which would be improvements over ‘in regard to.’ With the S, it means


Sorry, it just got to me a little bit. I was going to write a bit on how to use ‘regards’ in a salutation or something, but you know what? There are other, better salutations, so let’s do this: Throw it out. Never use it. Sweep ‘regards’ into the dustbin. Let’s pretend that it is not a word. Delete it from your vocabulary. Never use it again.


Ahhh, I feel better now.

So how else can ‘regard’ go wrong? Let me mention a few things to remember:

There are some people who use ‘regardless’ when they mean ‘despite.’ They are not interchangeable. ‘Regardless of’ can be used in that way, but not ‘regardless.’

There are some people who use ‘irregardless’ when they mean ‘regardless.’ ‘IRREGARDLESS’ IS WRONG AND SHOULD NEVER, EVER BE USED. Sorry, I almost yelled there a little.

Finally, the correct idiom is ‘regardless of whether’; however, people often say (erroneously) ‘regardless whether’ as in for example:

We are going to complete the harvest regardless whether or not it rains later. (WRONG)

We are going to complete the harvest regardless of whether or not it rains later. (RIGHT)

Incidentally, the ‘or not’ is usually superfluous when you say ‘whether’; the ‘or not’ is implied in the word, ‘whether.’ For example:

In this experiment, we have to decide whether or not to include all of the possible cell types. (RIGHT)

In this experiment, we have to decide whether to include all of the possible cell types. (RIGHT)

However, when ‘whether or not’ is used to mean ‘regardless of whether,’ the ‘or not’ is required. For example:

She insists on writing the manuscript whether or not the findings are statistically significant. (RIGHT)

She insists on writing the manuscript whether the findings are statistically significant. (WRONG)

But I digress. How did ‘regard’ turn into ‘whether’? On to Tip 2.

Tip 2: Shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you knew the answer to something, but for the life of you, you couldn’t think of the reason your answer was right. That’s what happened to me this week. Here’s what happened.

A reader wrote:

These wlut mails are my favorite part of the week. Thank you so much for sending them. I have a grammar question regarding would/could. A friend of mine keeps using the phrase ‘would not’ as in ‘would not you do the same thing?’ or ‘Could not you do….’

I feel he should use the short form or ‘wouldn’t.’

Is it ok to use the ‘would not’ and ‘could not’ phrases?

I wrote back:

I would always say wouldn’t you or couldn’t you, but is it actually wrong to say would not you or could not you? That’s a great question, and I’m not sure.

I was at a loss. I thought I knew the answer, but I didn’t know the rule that made it so. I looked everywhere, but part of the problem was that I didn’t know how to word the question: did the rule have to do with negative questions? Did the rule have to do with conditional words? Did the rule have to do with auxiliary modals? It could have been anything. I looked high and low—in my books, on the Internet, I talked to colleagues, but there was nary a clue.

This is what I knew: I knew that we would not say ‘Would not you do the same?’ or ‘Could not you do the same?’ in lieu of use the contractions. We would, in fact, say, ‘Would you not do the same?’ or ‘Could you not do the same?’ if we decided we did not want to just use ‘wouldn’t’ and ‘couldn’t.’ But why, I cried. Why?

Finally, our old standby, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), came to my rescue with this brief discussion of verbal phrases:

5.102 Verb phrases

The combination of an auxiliary verb with a principal verb is a verb phrase, such as could happenmust go, or will be leaving…A verb phrase is negated by placing the negative adverb not after the first auxiliary {we have not called him}. In an interrogative sentence, the first auxiliary begins the sentence and is followed by the subject {Must I repeat that?} {Do you want more?}. An interrogative can be negated by placing not after the subject {Do you not want more?}; contractions are often more natural but may paradoxically serve as positive intensifiers {Don’t you want more?} {Isn’t the sunset beautiful?}. Most negative forms can be contracted {we do not–we don’t} {I will not–I won’t} {he has not–he hasn’t} {she does not–she doesn’t}…

University of Chicago, The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

‘Interrogative,’ by the way, is a word or the form used in asking a question. My first thought was to trash the overly complicated and pretentious writing used in CMOS, but then, I remembered that it had given me my answer. I still don’t have a reason, but I have a rule, and that will suffice. For now.

Have a happy holiday everyone! Remember, there is no WLUT for the next two weeks due to the holiday break. See you in January!



  1. Eliane Suter said,

    I just discovered your page by chance. Very interesting and entertaining. Please send me your posts by email. TIA!

  2. Duayne said,

    I also just found this by chance (while looking up “awoke vs. awaken,” etc.)
    I enjoy both your straightforwardness and your humor.
    Looking forward to more when you return from holiday break!
    Oh, and sign me up for your email posts!

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