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Using The Phrase “For All Intents and Purposes”

  • The common phrase “For all intents and purposes” is defined as “in effect.”
  • Try not to confuse this expression with “for all intensive purposes”, a result of common mishearing or misinterpretation

If you conduct business, you have most likely come across the phrase “for all intents and purposes.” What does this expression mean? Comprehending the words’ sense will help you avoid a common but costly mistake.

Intents and Purposes Broken Down Into Pieces

The first step is to understand the crucial aspects of the phrase. An intent is a purpose or a meaning. A purpose is a reason something exists or is done. It’s the intended result of something or the matter at hand.


The expression “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” derives from sixteenth-century English law. Sometime later, the shortened “for (or to) all intents and purposes” evolved to become more popular than the initial phrase meaning “in every practical sense” or “virtually.” Even in those times, lawyers liked to cover all their bases! An idiom is an utterance or saying whose meaning does not correspond fully or literally to the definition of its individual words, or that does not heed the standard grammatical patterns of a language. “For all intents and purposes” is idiomatic; all doesn’t always fit every intent or purpose. In essence, it can mean “for all functioning purposes, in effect.”

How to Use It

Let’s turn to journalism to determine how to use this phrase. Here are a few excerpts from around the internet. Take notice of how the writer uses the expression to mean “virtually” or “in effect.”

With the roof up, the Targa top feels to all intents and purposes like a 911 Carrera. ―The Telegraph

“The concern is that we’ve got the trail practically completed,” Sharp said. “For all intents and purposes, the trail looks to be open.” ―Napa Valley Register

The Incorrect Way to Use It

If you intend to communicate the sense of “in effect,” you don’t want to make the mistake of writing “for all intensive purposes.” This phrase is what’s called an eggcorn. That means a misheard or misunderstood term or phrase that a speaker transforms into a new word or phrase. (The name eggcorn comes from the propensity for many people to mishear the word acorn as eggcorn). So, “for intensive purposes” presumably materialized when someone misheard the similar-sounding “for all intents and purposes.” The word intensive means vigorous, thorough, or concentrated. It’s apparent from the context that most examples of “intensive purposes” should’ve been “intents and purposes.”

If you feel confident that your use of  “for all intents and purposes” is correct, go ahead and do it. If you aren’t sure, you can always use a synonym like “in effect” “basically,” or “virtually.” 

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By Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher is a freelance writer and editor specializing in business writing and marketing. She holds a bachelor's degree in media and journalism and has contributed to a slew of printed and online media, including Contra Costa Times, Daily American, the The Tri-Town News,, and many more.

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