With regard to ‘regarding’

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 Excessive ‘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.

19 Responses to With regard to ‘regarding’

  1. Stan says:

    Thank you Sean.

    Yesterday evening I heard someone say: “He took a fair few liberties with regard to his sources”. It would have been easier to omit “regard to” entirely. It’s an instructive example because for once, the speaker already had the correct preposition, but he dropped a simple, direct construction for a messier, more inflated one. Be careful: these phrases are contagious!

  2. Sean Jeating says:

    ‘these phrases are contagious!
    :) Indeed. Last not least, when you are trying to learn a foreign language foremost by listening to the natives.

    In German those words / phrases are labelled as “Blähwörter”(*) which, roughly translated means “flatulences”.

    * not sure, but I think it was Wolf Schneider, author of the (legendary) “Deutsch für Profis” who coined this term.

  3. Stan says:

    Schneider sounds like an interesting character. Is bläh equivalent or related to the English blah (as in “blah blah blah”)?

    This is off-topic, but your comment reminds me that when I began learning German in school, the audiotape contained the line “Mein Name ist Stefan”; I repeated this line so much at home that my brother thought Stefan was the German for Stan. An understandable mistake, but no less amusing for that.

  4. Sean Jeating says:

    As for Schneider: To my surprise I found a wikepedia entry in English.

    As for your example: What’s also funny about this _ or should one call it annoying? – is, that in every day life almost all Stefans would introduce themselves either as ‘Ich heiße Stefan”, or “Ich bin Stefan”.

    Anyway, Stan sounds better. Reminds me of Sir Stanley Matthews. :)

  5. Sean Jeating says:

    Oh, almost forgot:
    Yes, in a way it’s related to “blah blah blah”.
    One could also say: Such ‘blah-words’ are as superfluous as a goitre.

  6. Stan says:

    “Ich heiße…” was taught as the more common form, but “Mein Name ist…” on the audiotape became a mantra because of the speaker’s musical way of saying it. It was like a little song. Ein kleines Lied, indeed.

    Did you mean to hyperlink to the Burren?

  7. Sean Jeating says:

    You wouldn’t believe if I claimed this was just a test to check whether you’d follow the link, would you. :)

    Seriously: Sorry, Stan.
    Here’s the ‘missing’ link.

  8. Sean Jeating says:

    Very strange. Trying again.

    Wolf Schneider.
    In case it doesn’t work, will you please delete these two evidences of my enormous skills?

  9. Stan says:

    The last link works fine, thanks Sean. Via the virtual linguist’s blog I learned about the Living German campaign, which Schneider seems to have co-founded. I wonder if they plan to include an English-language version of the website!

  10. Sean Jeating says:

    You are treasure trove re interesting links. Thank you, Stan.
    Having checked ‘Living German’ I’d be surprised would they intend to include an English-language* version.

    Question: would it do without ‘-language’?

  11. Stan says:

    Yes, it would be okay to omit -language there, because it is plainly implied by the context; I included it for added clarity. Some websites have e.g. American and British websites, both in English, with different or overlapping content.

  12. Sean Jeating says:

    Don’t wish to omit thanking my teacher, last not least in order to reintegrate said word into my active vocabulary. :)

  13. […] See also: “With regard to ‘regarding’” […]

  14. Dean says:

    I have been doing some research on this, with curiosity as to the received wisdom on my preferred form of the preposition, which is “with regards” (not the more common “with regards to”).
    As in: “With regards the problem of induction, Hume suggests….”

    I only ever use it or the standard “With regard to”, as using “with regards to” really grates on me – and I do understand the problem with the latter.

    To my surprise I find no mention of my variant in online discussion of the preposition, and am beginning to think that it could likely irritate others as “with regards to” irritates me.
    Have you ever come across this usage?

    Great article, as always.

    • Stan says:

      Dean: Thanks for your comment. I don’t remember seeing your version discussed in the usage literature either, though a search online shows it to have some currency in informal or unedited writing. With regards X doesn’t irritate me, but if I were editing a document that contained it I would be inclined to change it to a more standard form, such as Regarding X, As regards X, or As for X.

      • Tanya says:

        I found this interesting discussion when I searched for this very expression: ‘with regards X’. I am reading a paper published in the journal Cognitive Psychology (so it is a formal and (presumably) edited piece of writing) and the authors use this phrase quite a lot of times throughout the text. After I’ve ‘stumbled’ upon it 4-5 times feeling each time puzzled (and a little irritated) and having looked again at the authors’ names which sounded very English indeed, I wondered if something was wrong with my (second) language knowledge/intuition. Now I feel better when I’ve read that a native English speaking writer and editor would be inclined to change it to forms which I would use myself too. Thank you! :-)

      • Stan says:

        Hi Tanya, and thanks for your comment. Though I haven’t seen the text you mention, I’m not surprised you were puzzled by the repeated use of with regards X. For many writers, not least academics, it’s a ‘crutch’ phrase that substitutes for clarity and simplicity. I see it, and variations on it, all the time in prose I’m editing, and only occasionally would I consider it appropriate. Coincidentally, I tweeted about this problem just yesterday, with heavy irony.

  15. […] use of regarding or with regards to. A common issue and I would like you to read this blog post: https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/with-regard-to-regarding/ […]

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