Intent or intention? Exhibit or exhibition?

Do you ever hear people saying the word intent or exhibit — and think there should surely be an “-ion” on the end of it? “You mean that was your intention rather than your intent?” “Are you talking about a whole exhibition, rather than a single exhibit?” Well this might well happen if you’re an Englishman abroad (i.e. on the other side of the pond), where you’ll hear exhibit and exhibition used interchangeably these days. Intent and intention have also become similarly synonymous Stateside — and I’m not sure if this is also happening over in the UK. Read what distinguishes — or used to distinguish — the “-ion” version of each noun from its “-ion-less” counterpart.

Intent or intention? (First posted in Sep 2012)

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 not just assumed but is distinctly palpable.

“Intent” is most often found in legal or formal contexts, when the question of deliberateness is at issue.

Update in Oct 2018:

Here is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun intent: “The act or fact of intending or purposing; intention, purpose (formed in the mind). Formerly also, in more general sense, Will, inclination; that which is willed, pleasure, desire. Now chiefly in legal phraseology, and in the expressions with intent to (hurt, etc.), with good or malicious intent, etc.”

And here’s the same dictionary’s definition of intention: “That which is intended or purposed; a purpose, design.”


Exhibit or exhibition?

Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of exhibit:

  • “One of the objects composing an ‘exhibition’.”
  • (Draft addition in 1993:) “= exhibition n.  N. Amer.