Wednesday Words & Woes: One Real (But Not Accepted) and Two Not Even Real

Questions arise constantly about words — which to use, which to never use, and why.

In my Brush Up on Your American Grammar workshops, I refer to some words as not accepted or not standard, meaning they are in dictionaries but are not considered proper English (at least not yet) in professional speaking or writing.

The one that comes to mind most often is irregardless. A lot of folks don’t realize that while it is a real word, they shouldn’t be using it if they want to be seen as true professionals.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, it is a nonstandard variation of regardless.

So, if it’s in the dictionary, why is it not accepted? The most often cited reason is that it is a double negative, and in English those are not accepted. The ir is negative, and regardless is negative, so the whole word put together is a redundancy. (And if you’re not sure about ir, put it in front of responsible and see what you get. Yes. You go from something good (she is a responsible person) to something not so good (she is an irresponsible person).

It’s a little like ain’t, which is a real word but not considered acceptable in professional speaking or writing.

In terms of words that really are NOT words, its’ and alot are top contenders.

There are only two forms of the three letters its: its (the possessive pronoun), and it’s (the contraction of it is or it has).

  • The dog wagged its tail.
  • It’s (It has) been nice seeing you!
  • It’s (It is) a long drive to the store.

The other “word” that shows up everywhere is alot. Those four letters cannot go together; there is no such word. If you mean many, much, or numerous, you need to write a lot. Two separate words. Always. Yes, really. Always.

Someone taught me years ago that linking a lot with a little — both two-word phrases — can remind writers that a lot is always two words. Or maybe we can use a bunch to remember; would you ever write “I have abunch of carrots”? No? Then you can’t have “alot of carrots,” either.

Of course, the word allot is a real word, and it means to give out in portions (to allot each person a share).

What other words do you think shouldn’t be part of professional communication? Inquiring minds want to know!