This post offers advice on using regarding, as regards, in regard to, in regards to, with regard to, and with regards to. It deals with their prepositional use, not with regarding as a participle (“Regarding the picture quietly, I didn’t notice the crowd gather”).
These phrases are a mixed bag. In regards to and with regards to are quite common in spoken English but much less so in edited English, where their appearance is apt to provoke flinches and howls of outrage from precisionists – except, of course, where an elliptical with regards to indicates personal consideration:
With [my] regards to your wife/husband/family
As regards, in regard to and with regard to are all standard compound prepositions. They are fine when used sparingly to introduce or re-introduce a topic at the start of a clause:
With regard to your letter…
In regard to the matter we debated this morning…
The differences between the two presidents could not be more striking; as regards temperament, where one was placid the other was bullish…
Sometimes they are better replaced by the more concise regarding, concerning, about or as to, but not always: when used infrequently their relative wordiness is not unsightly. Besides, concerning is no shorter than as regards. Use context and sentence rhythm to help you choose the most suitable phrase.
Embedded in a clause, with regard to and its brethren are increasingly overworked, leading to a weak and periphrastic style. They are generally inferior to simple prepositions such as about, on, in or for, but these prepositions are often forgotten or considered too direct:
The following books have much information with regard to this subject (on, about)
We will answer your questions with regard to this issue (on, about)
The company has an obligation in regard to delivering on its promises (obligation to deliver)
As the examples show, with regard to and company are best replaced when they serve only to connect elements whose relationship is poorly understood. The same goes for other phrases commonly used to avoid plain language or to bypass incomprehension, such as involving, in terms of, in relation to, with respect to, on the basis of/that, and as far as … is concerned. These phrases occasionally fit their context well, but sometimes they signify only a dubious ability to vaguely relate abstract nouns.
I recently read this quote by a company spokesperson:
“Discussions have taken place with staff regarding this decision.”
It might not seem so bad, but much has gone wrong here so I’ll make an example of it. First we read about discussions, then we are told they took place, but we still don’t know who had them. It’s a short sentence but already it’s disordered and in search of a natural subject. After the half-way point we discover one party to the discussions (staff), and at the very end we discover what the discussions were about: a decision. It would be easier to remember the substance of this decision if we didn’t have to infer so much in between.
We also have to interpret who had these discussions with staff. Earlier the spokesperson had implied that it was the company, referring to it by an acronym and as us, so why not say so? We would suffice. The passive voice is not always a bad idea but here it gives the discussions an abstract and disembodied quality, which is typical of corporate circumspection and for which there is little justification. Better to have said:
“We discussed this decision with staff.”
This shows the reader who did what; it does so quickly, directly and in a sensible order, and it removes an unnecessary regarding.
If I asked you to fill in the blank in “Make a complaint ___ something”, most of you would guess “about”, and you would be right. But if you visited the Irish government’s website you would see about vying with regarding and even with regard to for its humble place: Make a Complaint regarding an Advertisement; Make a Complaint about Anti-Competitive Behaviour; Make a Complaint Regarding Food Safety. This last link tells me the Food Safety Authority “operates a facility for you to make a complaint with regard to food safety online.” If you can work out what “operates a facility” is doing here, please let me know; I’ll be looking for the links to “Make a Complaint Regarding ‘Regarding’” and “Make a Complaint about the Uncontrolled Proliferation of Unnecessary Capital Letters”.
Some authorities in English style advise against all of the phrases I’ve described. In this they seem to be following the lead of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, whose On the Art of Writing (1916) recommended the following (at #23):
Train your suspicions to bristle up whenever you come upon ‘as regards,’ ‘with regard to,’ ‘in respect of,’ ‘in connection with,’ ‘according as to whether,’ and the like. They are all dodges of Jargon, circumlocutions for evading this or that simple statement: and I say that it is not enough to avoid them nine times out of ten, or nine-and-ninety times out of a hundred. You should never use them.
I say that you should not be persuaded by this intransigent rule, regardless of where you hear it. Try to avoid with regards to and in regards to, at least in written English, and if you use regarding, as regards, in regard to, or with regard to, do so judiciously and only after careful consideration of the alternatives.