I often hear people misquote this phrase and say “for all intensive purposes.” Ironically, they are often using the phrase to make themselves sound more educated and articulate, but misquoting a phrase does the exact opposite.
The phrase “For all intents and purposes” means: for all practical purposes, or in every practical sense.
If you say this incorrectly as: “for all intensive purposes” you are actually conveying an almost opposite meaning: for all intense and extreme purposes, or in extreme and intense situations.
For example, you may have guests over for dinner, and when you ask someone if they want a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail, their response may be “For all intents and purposes, I don’t drink alcohol” This means that in any practical situation they don’t drink alcohol. However, it implies that if some rare or unexpected situation occurs – like they are offered one million dollars to drink a beer – they may actually drink it. If your guest had said, “For all intensive purposes, I don’t drink alcohol.” That would imply that in that rare situation when they are offered a large sum of money to drink it, they would NOT do so, because that would be an intensive purpose. One should also note at this point, that there is a difference in emphasis between intensive and intense although they are similar in meaning. “Intensive” normally relates to objective descriptions like an intensive care unit, where as “intense” relates to subjective responses, or how one feels, like the doctor at the hospital was very intense, but I digress.
Let’s use the phrase in another sentence to see how the meaning changes.
“For all intents and purposes, I drive very carefully.” Another way to say this might be, “99.99% of the time, I drive very carefully”
Now let’s see how the meaning changes when you use the incorrect phrasing.
“For all intensive purposes, I drive very carefully.” Another way to say this might be, “When things get intense and extreme, I drive very carefully.” This is most likely the opposite of what would actually happen.
When my children get really excited they sometimes tend to speak quickly, incoherently, or excitedly and I have trouble understanding them. When this happens I often will say, “Stop. Think, then speak.” After a brief glare at my facetious response to their apparently urgent matter, they will then think about what they need to tell me, and convey it rather articulately. This advice is great for anyone, at anytime. If you hear a phrase or cliché that you think sounds useful, by all means please learn it and use it in your vernacular. However, always remember to stop and think about what it means. If need be, look it up in the dictionary. Once you are certain of what it means and how to use it, then you should use it in your conversations. This is especially true when you are on a first date, at a job interview, writing copy for an advertisement, or making a presentation.
For all intents and purposes, you should know what you are saying before you say it. Stop. Think, then speak.