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TWTS: Give our regards to "regard," even if it's plural

In regard to the use of “in regards to,” there has been some serious criticism, even though many people say it and write it.

Our listener Bryan Knapp wrote to us about “in regards to,” and how for some reason, it doesn’t sound quite right.

“I generally say ‘with regard to,’” Bryan says. “But I realize circumstances may call for different variations of these phrases.”

In expressions like “with regard to,” “regard” means “detailed attention or consideration.” This type of phrase is known as a complex preposition or multi-word preposition. Other examples include “in regard of,” “in regard to,” “without regard to,” etc.

Historically, there have been two kinds of criticisms around these particular complex prepositions. The first is that they’re just extra words — why say “in regard to” when you can say “regarding” or “concerning”?

The second criticism is about the pluralization of “regard” in phrases like “in regards to.” In 1917, the Manual of Good English referred to it as an error. The Oxford English Dictionary calls it nonstandard.

The American Heritage Dictionary posed the question to its usage panel in a 2004 survey. Panel members were instructed to choose one of the three options presented in this example:

“Please call between 9AM and 5PM, Monday through Friday, if you have any questions – ‘as regards,’ ‘in regard to,’ or ‘in regards to’ – the status of your application.”

The survey results were pretty clear. 28% of the usage panel accepted “as regards,” 84% accepted “in regard to,” and almost no one accepted “in regards to.”

If you’re an “in regards to” user, don’t worry. Though it’s true that in formal prose it often gets edited out and replaced with “in regard to” or “with regard to,” there are plenty of people out there who say it and write it. That includes speakers of American English, British English, and other varieties of English.

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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