A Word, Please: With regard to ‘with regards,’ style guides advise against it
Here’s a tip: If you’re ever tempted to write “in regards to,” don’t. Ditto that for “with regards to.” It’s too risky. Readers may think less of you if you do.
True, you can’t police everything you write to appease sticklers. After all, they can find fault with almost any arrangement of words. But “in regards to” and “with regards to” are more dangerous than most snob-bait phrases because they don’t seem to have any defenders.
“In regards to” and “with regards to” aren’t wrong, necessarily. Yet everyone with an opinion on the subject thinks “in regard to” and “with regard to” are better.
“The plural form (as in ‘with regards to’ and ‘in regards to’) is, to put it charitably, poor usage,” notes Garner’s Modern American Usage.
“‘In regard to.’ Often wrongly written ‘in regards to,’” notes “The Elements of Style.”
It’s not just expert opinion. It’s an official rule in the most widely followed editing guide for the book publishing world, the Chicago Manual of Style: “‘In regard to.’ This is the phrase, not the nonstandard ‘in regards to,’” the manual’s editors advise.
Even the most permissive language authorities seem pretty down on the plural “regards” in these expressions. The gentlest criticism comes from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which points out that, though “in regards to” occurs in casual speech, it’s not really a thing in written English.
Even my Microsoft Word grammar-checker gets all judgmental about the plural “regards,” telling me in real time as I write: “Rewording here will make the meaning clearer. ‘In regard to.’”
Me, I never paid much attention to “in regards to” or “with regards to.” They don’t come up a lot in my world. I suspect people who read a lot of stuffy business correspondence and long-winded corporate communications run into these expressions a lot. But in news and feature writing, they’re not popular.
Some words lexicographers have added to dictionaries don’t have the staying power they may have expected.
Not even the more widely accepted “in regard to” and “with regard to” turn up because news and feature writing prefer less stuffy language like “about” or even “regarding.” A database search of published books shows that this plain-language aesthetic is catching on. Over the last century or so, the frequency with which “in regard to” and “with regard to” appear in books has plummeted.
So if the singular forms are fading away and everyone agrees that the plural forms are awful, surely “in regards to” and “with regards to” must be nearly extinct by now, right?
That’s what I thought. Then I searched for the terms in the books database Google Ngram Viewer and saw the opposite. “With regards to” and “in regards to” are up a hundredfold since the late 1800s — not 100% more likely to appear in a published book, 100 times more likely.
This is the point where you might expect your wise language columnist to chime in with an explanation, to reveal the missing variable that magically makes sense of this otherwise inexplicable language trend and explains why these terms are showing up more and more in published books even though the style guide for book publishers says not to use them.
Unfortunately, I’m stumped. I can’t for the life of me figure out why the plural forms — expressions Merriam-Webster’s clearly states are not really a thing in print — are increasingly more popular in print.
Does this mean the plural forms are on their way to respectability? Maybe, but I doubt it. Even though “with regards to” and “in regards to” are on the rise, they’re still pretty rare in published books. So those of us who dislike them can continue to do so in good conscience for the foreseeable future.
June Casagrande is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.
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