in and of itself


Intrinsically, considered alone. For example, In and of itself the plan might work, but I doubt that it will be approved. It is also put simply as in itself, as in This account may be true in itself. [First half of 1600s]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

BEHIND THE PHRASE

What does in and of itself mean?

In and of itself is another way of saying “on its own” or “by its very nature.” For example, The final book in the series is, in and of itself, a great work of art. 

The phrase is used for emphasis. It can be used to judge something out of its context or to emphasize the importance of considering something in its context.

Where does in and of itself come from?

You might note that in and of itself seems redundant. Don’t in itself and of itself mean the same thing? In a word, yes. But there is a good reason for this repetition.

First, some history. The construction of itself meaning “of its own accord, by its own nature” can be found in Old English. The construction in itself is recorded by the 1200s. In and of itself combines these two old phrases.

Grammar power:

 

 

We can find in and of itself recorded as a fixed expression by the late 1600s. A lot of early examples of the phrase appear in The Living Temple, a theological text written by English Puritan John Howe in 1675. At one point, in a consideration of the nature of God, he writes:

… there is such a Being as is eternal, uncaused, &tc., having the power of action in and of itself.

Howe, here, is talking about the fact that this divine being has this power intrinsically—by its own nature. In and of itself. Because it’s God.

So, in and of itself is repetitive, but that makes it emphatic. Repetition is commonly used to create emphasis in English. Consider the phrase each and every, or a statement like I’m so, so happy for you!

Referring to something in and of itself can be more forceful than just the phrase in itself or of itself on its own.

How is in and of itself used in real life?

In and of itself is a widely used phrase. It appears everywhere from everyday conversations to formal academic writing.

We tend to use in and of itself in two ways:

  • To communicate the idea: “Let’s just think about this thing on its own without getting into the surrounding context.” In this case, in and of itself highlights the nature and quality of a thing just on its own terms.
    • For instance: This award is—in and of itself—an honor, even without the money that comes with it. 

 

  • Or, to communicate the idea: “We can’t just think about this thing on its own because there are other factors at play.” Here, in and of itself  is drawing attention to the importance of the thing in its real-world context.
    • This use of in and of itself is often followed by words like but or however.
    • For example: The medicine isn’t dangerous in and of itself, but, when taken with grapefruit, it can be deadly.

 

If you want to use in and of itself but are unsure, consider whether you can substitute the clunkier on its own and ignoring everything else. If so, you can probably use in and of itself.