Baffled by officious and bureaucratic ‘regards’ phrases


My attention was called recently by a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum to this multiple-choice test sentence: “I spoke to him regarding (as regards, in regard to, with regard to) his future.” Baklis—that’s his username—said he found the alternatives to “regarding” in that sentence baffling and asked for my thoughts about them.

Here’s what I told Baklis:
You’re not alone in being thrown off by the phrases “as regards,” “in regard to,” and “with regard to” as alternatives to “regarding,” but it’s not because those phrases are baffling in themselves. It’s just because they sound officious and bureaucratic; indeed, they are of the kind that self-respecting English speakers—other than hidebound lawyers perhaps—should never catch themselves using verbally or in writing.

The reality though is that those three phrases form part of the standard communication repertoire of some senior people of high organizational rank or educational attainment. They guilelessly pepper their memos, reports, and letters with “with regards to…” and “as regards to…” all throughout their professional lives, spreading the usage unchallenged and thus predisposing even their more English-savvy subordinates to use them. Every now and then, these subordinates might get the strong urge to correct their bosses, but they sensibly hold back so as not to jeopardize their career prospects.

I remember that when I was a young entry-level employee in a big manufacturing company, I had an immediate superior (not a lawyer) who had the intractable habit of using “with regards to…” when replying to memos. The replies invariably began this way: “With regards to your memo dated so and so, please be informed that…” That usage sounded so stiff and grating to my ears, and I was very sure that “regarding,” “concerning,” or “about” could do a much better, more natural-sounding job.

To make sure that my misgivings were not unjustified, I checked with several authoritative references. I found out that “with regards to…”, along with its variant “in regards to,” is actually nonstandard usage—a usage that The Columbia Guide to Standard American English called a “shibboleth,” or a use of language peculiar to a particular group. In short, neither “with regards to…” nor “in regards to” is generally accepted usage; the standard usage is “with regard to…” Even so, I knew my place in the scheme of things and made no attempt to correct my immediate superior; after all, I thought, I shouldn’t lose my job for having English grammar better than that of my boss.

Keep in mind though that aside from “regarding,” there are two other “regard” idioms that are standard usage: “as regards…” and “in regard to…”, as in “(As regards, In regard to) your request for transfer, please furnish us…” But my advice is to avoid using them altogether.

Even if many lawyers, bureaucrats, and corporate types resort to them to give an officious edge to their memos, I think your own memos and letters will be more pleasant and engaging—and will get better results—without those phrases. In their place, just use plain “regarding,” “concerning,” or “about,” as in “(Regarding, Concerning, About) your request for transfer, please furnish us…” Feel the difference?

Now, if “with regards to…” and “in regards to…” are indeed substandard usage, why do people get into the hard-to-break habit of using them? I think it’s because there are three similar-sounding “regards” idioms that are standard usage: “give my regards,” “extend my regards,” and “with my regards.” Unlike “with regards to…” and “in regards to…”, however, these idioms legitimately use “regards” as a noun, not as a grammatically doubtful component of a prepositional phrase. They are thus perfectly acceptable parting words and closings, as in “Give my regards to your wife and children,” “Please extend my regards to the staff,” and “With my best regards.”

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  1. While you’re at it, Mr. Carillo, I think you should also admonish companies to stop using “is in need of” when writing help wanted ads/announcements for job openings. Why can’t they just say “need/s”? It’s to the point, and much better at conveying urgency than the clumsy “is in need of.”

    • A very interesting suggestion, CB. I’ll look into that particular usage sometime soon.

      By the way, I’m greatly intrigued–mildly scared even–by your use of a very strange term for a name in your e-mail address. I must tell you that it caused your membership application to the Forum to be declined an hour or so ago. Would you care to explain it to me privately by e-mail? I promise to be very discreet about it.

      Thanks and have a nice day!