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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: January 25, 2012

Submitted by on January 25, 2012 – 8:43 AM10 Comments

If I am describing how something relates to another thing, I generally use "in relation to" or "in respect of." However, I keep seeing the phrase "with respect to" used in the same way. My boss actually changed some a sentence recently to use "with respect to" rather than "in respect of" in this way: "an indication of what is to come with respect to a strategic, regional or landscape approach."

I think "with respect to" means something different to "in respect of." Like, you are giving actual respect to something or someone, not describing how something relates to another thing.

Am I in the wrong here?

In other words, is it "Our conclusion was influenced by consultation undertaken in respect of the Tomato Nation" or "Our conclusion was influenced by consultation undertaken with respect to the Tomato Nation"? I am not talking about the respect given to the Tomato Nation during that consultation, but rather that the Tomato Nation was the subject of the consultation.

Thanks so much,

Dear Lauren,

My first instinct is twofold: 1) neither phrase has much to do with "respect" in the sense of esteem; 2) "in respect of" sounds like a clanky overcorrection to me, and I would change it to "with respect to" or "regarding" in any document in which I found it.

But your original letter placed terminal punctuation outside of quotation marks, which indicates that I shouldn't necessarily look to American English for an answer here. To the Google-ator! Among the things I found:

Garner expresses neither a preference for either phrasing nor an opinion on differing meanings, merely noting that either phrasing is better replaced with a single preposition. (Did you know you can follow him on Twitter? You can. You're welcome.)

So, shows what I know. I still don't believe there's any meaningful difference between the versions of the phrase; it's a matter of regional usage. I would advise you to rewrite that sentence entirely so it's less garbage-y corporate, to wit: "A consultation on the Tomato Nation influenced our conclusion."

The short version: the phrase itself is not wrong. Your interpretation of it as differing from the alternative is probably fictional.

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  • "In respect of" is definitely very British, and sounds odd to American ears. (You do see it in Canada as well.) As an American in the UK, I'm confident in saying that the phrase "with respect to" is also acceptable when used in this sense in written British English.

    Here's an example of it appearing in a law:

    Here's an example of it appearing in parliamentary business:

    (Just use Control+F in your browser window, type in "with respect to," and hit "Search" in order to see where the phrase appears on these pages.)

  • Laura says:

    I'm British, and "in respect of" is more obtrusive to my ear than "with respect to".

  • Caitlin says:

    I am an American, but a lawyer, and the partners I work with use "in respect of" all the time in briefs and other formal writing. I see it in opposing counsels' papers as well, so I don't think that it is something unique to my firm. When i saw it initially, I found it odd as well (I would have used "with respect to"), but I have since accepted it as correct, at least as far as legal writing goes.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    Laura, I'm interested in your perspective on "in respect of." I see it in British business writing frequently (and don't care for it). If you search on Google for "in respect of" UK, you get lots of results in government documents. Maybe it's one of those unfortunate bits of business-speak that gets used ad nauseam in spite of adding nothing to the language. Goodness knows we have far too many such phrases in the U.S.

  • Stephanie says:

    I've never heard/read anyone use "in respect of" before. I had no idea it was a thing.


  • Lauren says:

    Ha! This is interesting, as I (the letter-writer) am a lawyer. I live and work in Australia where we tend to favour British English.

    Thanks Sars for your view – I agree the examples could be more concise and readable. Writing in my profession could generally be so. And thanks for the Garner Twitter link. I had no idea he was on Twitter.

    I was wondering if "with respect to" was a derivative of "with regard to" which I have seen used more commonly. Sometimes I see "in regard to" which is surely wrong.

  • MizShrew says:

    I'm with Sars on this: I'd avoid this kind of legalese or corporate-speak altogether. "Regarding" is clearer and more concise, and it prevents the reader from spending time debating the phrase rather than debating the content around it.

  • Laura says:

    The Other Katherine: I copied your Google search, and it's interesting how almost confined to government documents the phrase seems to be. I've now got two theories: maybe it's an artefact of legal writing, and my lack of familiarity with the legal field means I've never been exposed to it. Or, maybe there's one rogue civil servant who has it as a tic and is single-handedly propagating it throughout officialdom :)

  • The Other Katherine says:

    Rogue civil servant FTW!

  • Wehaf says:

    If I ever have a band, I'd love to name it Rogue Civil Servant!

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