For all intensive purposes (for all intents and purposes)

For all intents and purposes is the usual form of the phrase meaning in every practical senseFor all intensive purposes is a fairly common eggcorn derived from the original phrase. It’s often heard in speech, but it’s rare in published writing because it generally doesn’t pass through the editorial process.


Although for all intensive purposes doesn’t make much sense, examples such as these are not hard to find:

It was a questionable call in the 81st minute that for all intensive purposes decided the outcome. [Bleacher Report]

The student was sharing a story with another student about “Amanda” stealing her fake I.D. Slade reassured the audience that he changed the name for all intensive purposes. [The Quinnipiac Chronicle]

For all intensive purposes, Tennessee Volunteers Head Coach Derek Dooley can start packing his bags. [Her Game Life]

But in more carefully edited writing, for all intents and purposes, as used below, is the standard form:

Northwest Europe is, for all intents and purposes, every bit as rich as America. [Economist]

For all intents and purposes, my opinion most always mirrors that of the average Canadian. [Telegraph Journal]

For all intents and purposes, the Nexus One is a T-Mobile phone. [Polyclef Software]

16 thoughts on “For all intensive purposes (for all intents and purposes)”

  1. I beg to disagree!

    The purpose of the phrase is to qualify the claim being made.

    So even if A is not literally (or technically) equivalent to B, one could say it is equivalent FAIAP.

    Voting laws of the discrimination era are a good example.
    Requiring one to pass a written exam was not technically discriminating against blacks, since they could vote if they could read. However, it was racial discrimination FAIAP, since everyone knew very few blacks could read.

    So the intent and purpose of the law was to discriminate.

    I think there’s a subtlety there that’s expressed well by the phrase.

    • I was just scrolling down here to say the same thing, but you beat me to it! There is definitely a subtle context that the phrase imparts that is lacking in its absence. Just as you said, best used to indicate when something is not literally the same but is intended to function as the same.

      Contrast “The chair, for all intents and purposes, was a table.” and “The chair was a table.” One sounds like I put my coffee mug on the chair next to my bed to use it like a table, even though I realize it is really a chair. The other just sounds silly.

      Funny, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the original phrase was “TO all intents and purposes” but that seems to have changed to “for” in modern usage.

    • OK. We got rid of that paragraph. (To anyone who sees this later: There was a paragraph in the above post about how “for all intents” and purposes often serves no purpose and can be removed.)

  2. I was taught that the phrase was “for all intent and purpose”, and not “for all intents and purposes.” Since I cannot find the former anywhere online, is my memory whacked, or was I simply misinformed?

      • Magni: That’s what confuses me about “intent” versus ‘intents’ and “purpose” versus “purposes.” The line between plural and singular with those two words seems a bit fuzzy, in my mind anyway.

        For example, if someone has more than one reason for doing something, they can be asked what their intentions are – plural. But can’t they also correctly be asked what their “intent” is, when they have more than one specific intention? As in “my intent is to both grab that bottle and to drink it.”

        A similar point can be made about the word “purpose.”

        I’m not trying to argue. I’m just trying to justify why I once thought that the correct phrase was “for all intent and purpose.” It made sense to me, even though I was wrong. Which is sort of my life story, in a nutshell. ;)

      • Dan: Since I honestly enjoy being corrected when I make one of my far too numerous grammatical errors, I checked the OED for the proper uses of “since.” I assumed that you were correct, but the OED, and other sources, state that “since” can properly be used in place of “because.” Now we both know.

    • it’s not hypercorrection when you’re consciously correcting and a purpose could conceivably be intensive in some context but in this case of folk etymology it’s not. just as there’s no such thing as old timers disease.

      • I think its terrible to disregard a string of words because it isn’t the “traditional phrase”. Why is “for all intensive purposes” not valid then? Intensive confers that those purposes be honed, thought out vigorously and thoroughly in a short amount of time, whereas “for all intents and purposes” conveys a lackadaisical determination or perhaps a conclusion/outcome by a suspension. One gives the sense of force, a process with the final conception of quick thought or and the other seems merely the passive or slashod determination of something through nondescript series of events as contrary to its nature almost with a feeling of irony.

        • I didn’t say it was invalid, just that it’s a good example of folk etymology, which is what the article attempts to demonstrate.

          • and reveals a poor education and/or intelligence in the speaker or writer. It’s just wrong, and is due to mis-hearing the original without understanding.

  3. Wouldn’t it be a malapropism and not an eggcorn? A malapropism is ‘the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance’ (wikipedia). Whereas an eggcorn is ‘an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context’ (wikipedia). ‘All intensive purposes’ is not plausible in the same context and it’s actually quite nonsensical.


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