What does it mean when someone says ‘in and of itself’? Let’s take a look at the definition, origin, and examples of this phrase.
In short, ‘in and of itself’ is an idiom that means “by its very nature” or “intrinsically.” It is used to describe something that is true intrinsically without consideration for other factors.
The idiom ‘in and of itself’ means “considered alone, intrinsically.” Another way to say this would be ‘without considering anything else,” “by its very nature,” or “on its own.”
‘In and of itself’ is a phrase that is used to emphasize that the specific issue being discussed is true without giving consideration to anything else or that it is enough on its own.
For example, let’s say that there is a series of films that are meant to be watched in sequence, but you feel that the final movie stands alone as a great film. You might say something like, “the final film in the series is, in and of itself, a tremendous work of art.”
‘In itself’ is a phrase used to emphasize that what you are saying about one specific issue or thing is true without having to give consideration to any other factor.
‘Of itself’ is a phrase that means the same thing as ‘in itself’– it is used to emphasize that what you are saying about one specific thing or issue is true without consideration for other things or other factors.
When looking at the definitions of ‘in itself’ and ‘of itself,’ it might cross your mind that the phrase ‘in and of itself’ seems redundant. Though these phrases mean the same thing, the repetition of two phrases with the same meaning is purposeful.
‘Of itself’ is a phrase that is found in Old English and means “of its own accord, by its own nature.’ ‘In itself,’ dates back to at least the 1200s with the same meaning.
‘In and of itself’ is found in texts all the way back in the late 1600s. Some of the earliest examples of the phrase are found in a theological text titled The Living Temple, written in 1675 by John Howe. Howe was an English Puritan that briefly served as chaplain to the English statesman Oliver Cromwell.
In this text, Howe uses the phrase ‘in and of itself’ while talking about the nature of God:
“… there is such a Being as is eternal, uncaused, &tc., having the power of action in and of itself.”
He is using the phrase to argue that this divine being has the power of action by its own nature.
This example helps to show why ‘in and of itself’ is a phrase that repeats two phrases with the same meaning. By stating both ‘in itself’ and ‘of itself’ at the same time, it makes it emphatic. A common way to create emphasis in English is through repetition.
Now that we understand what ‘in and of itself’ means and where it comes from let’s look at some examples of the phrase in sentences.
Are you wondering how else you can communicate a similar meaning of ‘in and of itself’ with different words? Here are some synonymous phrases and words:
If you’re working on building your English vocabulary, idioms and phrases can be a fun and interesting way to diversify and enrich your writing and speech. Be sure to check out our idioms blog for more in-depth articles about the definitions and origins of various idioms, complete with examples!
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