Could or Couldn’t Care Less: Which One Is It?

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Sometimes in American English, you find an expression that is used or pronounced more than one way. In the case of could and couldn’t care less, we may often find that different people use one expression or the other—and they are certain their form is correct.

So which is the right one for proper writing and speaking?

Breaking Down This Popular Phrase

When someone uses either version of this expression, they are applying sarcasm to convey they have no concern or preference. Therefore, the technically correct version is couldn’t care less.

It is easy to see why this has to be so when you further examine the thought. Suppose Jim has been asked what movie he would like to see. If he responds “I could not care any less than I already do,” he would be lengthy but clear. On the other hand, if he were to reply with “I have fewer cares,” the meaning would be lost.

In this way, saying that you “couldn’t care less” is like saying you care “less than nothing.” It’s an obvious exaggeration, but the meaning and emphasis are straightforward.

So, if you want to be spot-on grammatically while also remaining a tad snarky, stick to “couldn’t care less.” However, there is a small caveat.

Why We Could Care Less About This Rule

Hopefully the explanation above clarifies why “couldn’t care less” is better than “I could care less” in conveying the same thought. If you keep using the non-preferred phrase, though, you will probably be in good company.

The two versions of the given statement have been used so often that both are well understood. In addition, because they are based on informal slang and sarcasm, neither expression will be found in serious reporting or academic work. That means you are more apt to find these constructions in everyday speech and the occasional blog post.

The rules of grammar still apply in those kinds of situations, of course, but they aren’t as restrictive. So, while we would prefer that you use the better, clearer version of the expression (and use neither when you’re aiming to be a good student or professional), you aren’t likely to be corrected. Most people will know what you mean and simply move on.

That just might be good enough for you if you are the kind of person who couldn’t care less about the formalities of grammar in American English.

Looking to Settle More Grammar Disputes?

Need grammatical insight, or just looking for tips for becoming a sharper communicator? Check back soon for more posts, or leave a comment below and let us know your grammar question. We may even address your topic in a coming article!

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