English can be confusing enough for someone who has grown up as a native speaker, never mind for someone who is trying to learn it as a second language. For every rule in English, there are innumerable exceptions. And then there is the never-ending list of English idioms that either don’t make logical sense or sound too much like other common words. This becomes even more problematic when the idiom is spoken far more often than it is written.
You may have heard the phrase for all intents and purposes used before and you may have also seen it written incorrectly as for all intensive purposes. When you break down exactly what the idiom is supposed to mean, you’ll understand why the former is right and the latter is not.
When someone says that something is a certain way “for all intents and purposes,” he or she is saying that it is the case for every practical way or in every important regard. There may be some minor quibbles or details to the contrary, but “for all intents and purposes,” this is true.
For all intents and purposes, Jim was given free rein over how to run the company.
In the example above, we can safely assume that Jim now has effective control over the company and the direction it is going to take. Yes, he may be limited by budget and he may not have the official title of CEO, but Jim can go about running the company in whatever fashion he wishes. In every practical way, he’s the boss.
Quite literally, “all intents and purposes” would refer to all the possible intents and every practical purpose. It is incorrect to use “for all intensive purposes,” because we’re not referring only to the purposes that are intense; we’re referring to all of practical purposes.
Is there a particular English idiom that bothers you? Is there another grammar, spelling or punctuation issue that you would like to see explored in a future Grammar 101 post? Let me know through the comment section below!