Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
I COULDN'T care less or I COULD care less?
Monday February 1st 2016
What does “I couldn’t care less” mean, and which is correct, couldn't or could? — Judith, United States
When you say that you couldn’t care less about something, it means that you are not at all concerned about it; it doesn’t matter to you. Here is an example:
Tom says he couldn't care less if he gets fired. (=Tom says he doesn’t care if he gets fired; it won’t matter to him.)
But you will also hear people use this expression with could instead of couldn’t, like this:
I could care less what happens.
Is this correct, and what does it mean?
The answer depends on whom you ask. According to most grammarians, this expression is logical and correct only with couldn’t. If a person says, “I couldn’t care less” about something, it means that the amount of care and concern they have about something could not be any less, any lower. This makes sense. Therefore when someone says I could care less, it should mean the opposite, that they are concerned.
However, if you listen to native speakers, you will hear people saying “I could care less,” and you will know from the context and tone of voice that they mean they are not at all interested or concerned. So while the expression with could may not be as logical, it is used. And if you’re interested in understanding actual usage, like many linguists and learners, you should definitely be aware of both forms.