• Brittany J. Vincent

Could Care Less vs. Couldn't Care Less




Could you care less? Yes, you could! “I could care less” vs. “I couldn’t care less” continues to be one of the most common grammar gaffes of all time. Heck, I mixed up these phrases on a regular basis before I became a professional editor and discovered the grammatical error of my ways.

Could is an auxiliary verb. It’s the past tense form of can. An affirmative statement.[1]

Couldn’t is the contraction of could not. A negative statement.[2]

“I could care less” is an affirmative statement and means that you do already care, and your concern could be lessened. “I couldn’t care less” is a negative statement and means you are already at a point of not caring.

“I couldn’t care less” is believed to have a 1940s British origin, adopted by American soldiers who were returning home from World War II. There is even evidence of it being used as early as the 19th century.[3]

I know many people who, if the archbishop were to be roasted, would go to get a bit of him, because he has yielded to the Catholics respecting giving children the whole Bible. But he goes on, and he could not care less for abuse if he were made of wood. — Lucy Aikin, Memoirs, 1864[4]

Around 1960, could started to take its place and has been used interchangeably ever since.

“Some people ... SOME PEOPLE like cupcakes better (but) I for one, could care LESS for them!” -Frank Zappa[5]

The two may be used interchangeably, but “I couldn’t care less” is the proper phrase to use if you want to avoid this grammar gaffe.

 

Sources

[1] Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, s.v. “could,” accessed May 28, 2020, http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com. [2] Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, s.v. “could,” accessed May 28, 2020, http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com. [3] Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), 96. [4] Merriam-Webster, “Is It 'Could' or 'Couldn't Care Less'?” accessed May 28, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/could-couldnt-care-less. [5] Frank Zappa, “Quotable Quote,” Goodreads, Goodreads, Inc., accessed May 28, 2020, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7301990-some-people-some-people-like-cupcakes-better-but-i-for. #grammargaffe #grammar #words #meanings #popularphrases #writingtips #history

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