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Meaning and Origin of the Phrase 'For All Intents and Purposes'

Payal Kanjwani
Unlike most English idioms and phrases, the origin of the phrase 'for all intents and purposes' is unambiguous. However, its meaning is tricky. We will explicate its meaning and its correct usage with the help of some easy examples.
"For all intents and purposes, I am a woman."

Bruce Jenner, the Olympic athlete and "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" star recently used this phrase in an emotional interview with Diane Sawyer, accepting that he's a transgender. That was quite of a news!
Oftentimes, we notice people slurring idioms and phrases outta their mouths, without actually knowing their meaning. We accept, phrases do make the language sound more colorful, giving you a mental picture when used by somebody.
But we can't deny the fact that the meaning behind some phrases change drastically when they move from editorial (written) English to spoken English. To avoid blunders while conversing, you got to know the origin and meaning behind such phrases. One such phrase is 'for all intents and purposes'. Let's find its origin and correct usage in the language.

Origin of the Phrase

• The first recorded use of this phrase was in the 1500s, in an Act of Parliament, used by Henry VIII. The initial wording by him were, "to all intents, constructions, and purposes."
• The meaning behind 'to all intents, constructions, and purposes' is undecipherable. Arguments over the extra 's' in 'intent', and the meaning behind the words 'intent' and 'purpose' are legit. Also, if you ponder on these words, we are very unlikely to come across them outside legal documents.
• Hence, like other legal phrases, it is difficult to trace down this phrase's meaning.

• With the passage of time, the original phrase has dropped the 'construction', and the current forms include 'to/for all intents and purposes'.


• This phrase is used wherein the condition may not be 100% true or accurate, but the situation would remain unaltered as if it were true. You may think that 'intents' and 'purposes' mean the same. But this redundancy of words was very common in Old English idioms and phrases.

• It falls under the class of adverbs.
• Its meaning in simpler terms, with the help of short equivalent phrases is as follows:

• for all practical purposes, in every practical sense, practically speaking.

• in all important ways

• in every respect

• in effect, effectively

• actually, in actuality, virtually, really, etc.

It isn't 'For all intensive purposes'

• 'For all intensive purposes' is a common malapropism derived from the original phrase 'for all intents and purposes' being misheard and repeated. Oftentimes, it is heard in speech, but rarely in published writing.
• It also fits in the category of mondegreens. These are misheard versions of phrases, idioms, slogans or lyrics, so much so that the wrong phrase seems to be correct.
Let's consider an example to clear the confusion.
I drive safely, for all intents and purposes.
Meaning: 99% of the time, I drive safely.

Now, using the incorrect phrase ...
I drive safely, for all intensive purposes.
Meaning: When things get intense and extreme, I drive safely.

This is almost the opposite of what the person actually meant.
• Now you see, the commonly, yet wrongly, used phrase 'for all intensive purposes' considers the most serious purpose, covering the most intense possibility, which isn't the case with the original phrase.


► For all intents and purposes, the script is completed.

► We still have some formalities left regarding references, but for all intents and purposes, the job is yours.
► The publication was impoverished for all intents and purpose.

► For all intents and purposes, they planned to buy the air-conditioner, but still wanted to check the reviews.

► This post is, for all intents and purposes, understandable.

And we sign off with a quote ...

"If I have not read a book before, it is, for all intents and purposes, new to me whether it was printed yesterday or three hundred years ago."
― William Hazlitt