Category Archives: Grammar

Could You, or Couldn’t You?

It’s time for me to rant on my biggest pet peeve of all time.

Have you ever said that you “could care less?” In other words, someone asks you something, and you respond, “you know, I could care less what they think . . . .”

Well, you’re wrong. It should always be that “you couldn’t care less.” But don’t feel alone; just about everyone I hear using this phrase screws it up, even journalists. And it makes me sick, because people clearly aren’t thinking about what they’re wanting to say, and what they are saying.

What you want to say:
When you’re using this phrase, you’re trying to convey that you don’t care with a certain level of spunk. In other words, there is no level of caring that you can reach regarding the topic, so “you couldn’t care less.” Caring gets no lower than where you’re at right now. Makes sense.

What you actually say:
By telling someone that “you could care less,” you’re telling them that there is a level of caring that you have not yet reached, and therefore logic tells us that, yes, you could care less. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you care much, but it emphatically communicates that you aren’t quite to the lowest level of caring. Because “you could care less” than you do right now.

I don’t know how this went wrong, but it’s wrong, and it’s rampant. Still not convinced? Let’s switch out the verb and see how easily it can be clarified:

  • If you are stuffed and don’t want to eat another thing, you would say “I couldn’t eat more.” But if you screw that up like most of you screw up the caring thing, then you would say “I could eat more,” which would be completely false.
  • If you disagree with someone vehemently, you might say “I couldn’t agree less.” But if you tell them that “you could agree less,” then they know you at least have something in common. When you actually don’t.

Clear enough? I hope so.

Now, what can we do about it? To start, call someone out when they use it in the wrong way. Use tact, of course, but correct this viral ignorance. Blog about it. Email a link of this post to people. Do what you gotta do, but let’s stop caring less and start caring more about sounding like idiots at work and in public.

Or, forget it, and just tell me “you couldn’t care less.” Either way, I’ve done my job.

Pet Peeves - I see Dumb People