The similar phrases “I couldn’t care less” and “I could care less” can be confusing and are often used interchangeably, but which is correct? You can find the answers to all of your questions on this common malapropism below.
“I couldn’t care less” vs. “I could care less”
These phrases, meant to communicate that someone doesn’t care about something, are often used interchangeably, even though only one of them technically conveys the intended meaning.
“I couldn’t care less” is the correct way to express having complete apathy toward something. When someone says, “I could care less,” they’re actually saying that they do care because there are other things they care less about. Usually, when someone says “I could care less,” they are actually trying to say the opposite.
What does “I couldn’t care less” mean?
“I couldn’t care less” is a figure of speech used when someone is trying to communicate that they do not care about something—the amount they care is zero.
For example, your friend may say that there’s a new video game coming out. If you’re not a fan of video games, you might respond:
I couldn’t care less about the new game coming out.
In this scenario, you’re telling your friend that you do not care at all about the release of the new video game. You have no interest in it.
What does “I could care less” mean?
People will often use “I could care less” intending to show that they don’t care, even though the correct phrasing includes the negative participle couldn’t rather than could. Objectively, “I could care less” means you still care about whatever you’re discussing because there are things you care about less. Maybe you’re not excited about it, but you’re not utterly indifferent and unconcerned about it.
For example, someone in a statistics class may complain:
I could care less about bivariate regression analyses.
When picking the sentence apart, it might seem this person still has room in their heart to care about bivariate regression analyses, even if what they mean to say is that “nothing could possibly be more uninteresting.”
If you imagine the amount you care about something in terms of a scale, 1 being not at all, and 10 being that you care a lot, saying “I could care less” may put you at about a 4. There’s still room to care less. If you mean to say that you are completely indifferent to something, saying “I couldn’t care less” would be the correct phrasing, putting you at a 1 on the hypothetical care scale. It’s not possible for you to care any less.
It doesn’t really make sense to quantify how many “cares” you give in the first place. But these phrases are common and often used interchangeably. In both examples, you can infer that the person means they do not care. If you do care, at least a little bit, try saying “It’s not really my thing” or “I’m open to trying.”
Which should I use?
“I couldn’t care less” is technically correct. But if you use “I could care less,” you’re not alone. It’s unlikely that anyone would correct you if you used the latter because “I could care less” has become synonymous with “I couldn’t care less.” People have used the wrong phrase for so long that either one is acceptable and will convey the same meaning. Some people also argue that “I could care less” is just the sarcastic inversion of “I couldn’t care less.” Either way—you can use either one when talking.
If you’re using the phrase in writing, however, you should stay away from using “I could care less” because it can lead to confusion. In fact, it may be best to stay away from either phrase since they’re informal (especially in academic and professional settings).
“I couldn’t care less” FAQs
What does “I could/couldn’t care less” mean?
“I could care less” and “I couldn’t care less” are both used to express one’s level of indifference or lack of interest in a particular situation or topic. They are used to convey that you cannot care any less than you currently do, which is not at all.
Is “I couldn’t care less” or “I could care less correct”?
If you could not care any less than you do, opt for “I couldn’t care less.” It is the grammatically correct use of the phrase. Though “I could care less” is acceptable in most social settings, it can lead to confusion.
Why is “I could care less” incorrect?
The phrase is used to say you couldn’t care less than you already do. If you use “could care less,” then people may think you do care, even if it is minimally. The negative participle clarifies that you do not care.
Can they be used interchangeably?
Yes, they can be. “I couldn’t care less” is technically the correct way to say it, but both are socially acceptable in informal communication and get the same point across.