The second of Glossophilia’s series “X v Y” examines intention v intent.
People tend to use “intention” and “intent” interchangeably. But the words, although largely synonymous, do have different nuances, if not actual meanings.
First, at the heart of the difference in meaning is that “intention” is a countable noun, and “intent” is uncountable. Whereas I’m capable of having a number of specific intentions, or he might have a series of intentions in mind to achieve his goal, “intent” is a more abstract and intangible concept – like happiness or vulnerability. It’s something you can’t really quantify.
“Intent” is a mindset, rather than something on a to-do list. “My intention was to pick up some fruit at the store, but I ended up buying a steak.” “Her intention, sooner rather than later, was to marry.” But “his intent to harm was evident in the severity of her wounds”. An intention, although more specific and more descriptive of an anticipated behavior or action, is weaker in terms of its owner’s determination to follow it through. Intent is what’s in your mind – a sense of deliberateness – when you commit a deed, or when you carry out your intention.
When I play a game of scrabble, my intentions are various: to kick back, relax, have some fun, and to win. When Roger Federer plays the final at Wimbledon, his intent to win is palpable.
“Intent” is most often found in legal or formal contexts, when the question of deliberateness is at issue.
First posted Sep 2012