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What does "All Intents and Purposes" Mean?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The phrase for all intents and purposes or to all intents and purposes is often used in a variety of circumstances. It tends to mean under most usual circumstances, in most practical situations, or for purposes that are practical. Another interpretation could be in practical situations.

The phrase originated in legal language in the 1500s, and it may have been first used in court cases in England. The initial wording may have been "to all intents, constructions and purposes." Some point out that pluralizing "intent" is unnecessary since the word can be singular or plural without an "s" at the end, such as "his intent" or "their intent."

In the modern sense, this phrase could be used in the following example. A person is interviewing for a job, and the boss wants to hire him. She might say, "We still need to check your references, but for all intents and purposes, the job is yours." Provided the applicants references are fine, he has landed the job and, under practical considerations, he can consider himself employed.

Unfortunately, the phrase has gotten a little more complicated because of the numerous misquotes or malapropisms that are used in its place. One common substitution is "for all intensive purposes." This is very commonly used, and it means something almost directly opposite to the original phrase’s meaning of "for practical purposes."

If the person who was just about hired for a job "for all intensive purposes," one could argue that that person had just been hired for work in an emergency room or an intensive care unit. The person could only be considering the prospect of a job under intensive or highly intense situations. Now, this is probably not what the speaker means, but it deliberately corrupts the meaning of the original phrase.

Another malapropism associated with this phrase is "for all intense and purposes." This really doesn’t make sense because "intense" is an adjective and doesn’t pair up with the noun, "purposes." Some people try to fix this by saying "for all intense purposes," and this again will create problems since it is in direct conflict to the original meaning.

Though some modern online dictionaries are now defining "for all intensive purposes" as an idiomatic expression that means "for all intents and purposes," it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even in its original form, the phrase is somewhat redundant. Intents and purposes are basically similar words in definition and it may be wise to simply avoid the phrase altogether. Those who do plan to use it in writing or speaking, however, should use it correctly so the meaning remains clear.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon946323 — On Apr 18, 2014

I don't think most people who use that phrase even know what they're saying.

By anon258558 — On Apr 02, 2012

@rjohnson: I did too. I actually looked that phrase up online to ask what the true meaning of it was and that's how I found out that I had been thinking it wrong as well.

By rjohnson — On Aug 04, 2010

I have to say, I made the mistake of thinking it was "for all intensive purposes" for many, many embarrassing years.

By chrisinbama — On Jul 26, 2010

Just a fun little FYI: I had to do a research paper in my English class on the most mispronounced words in the English language. “For all intensive purposes” was in the top 100 according to a study that was done. I’m not sure who did the study but I thought it was an interesting FYI.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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