What Is a False Purpose?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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A false purpose is an intentional or accidental grammatical structure that attributes a particular purpose to an action when no such purpose or intent actually existed. The grammatical structure, usually a sentence, does refer to an action that actually did occur, but it fallaciously suggests that the action occurred or was carried out for a particular purpose. Careless word use and sentence structuring can result in accidentally attributing a false purpose to a given action. In many cases, however, purpose is intentionally attributed to given action, often in order to attack or praise someone who had little to do with the actual action.

It is possible for a writer or speaker to develop false purpose in several different ways within a given grammatical construction. Writing "The boy walked down the street to find that his favorite store had been closed the previous day," for instance, suggests that the boy walked down the road with the intent of discovering that his favorite store was closed. Poor word order can also lead to false purpose. The poor word order in the statement "the brothers decided to sell the estate of their father who recently died because they needed money" suggests that the father died because his sons needed money, thereby attributing a false purpose to his death.


Correcting false purpose is generally quite simply. In most cases, purpose is suggested by inappropriately using the word "to," as in "John hit the ball to score two runs for his team." It is unlikely that John's explicit goal was to score precisely two runs for his team. One could correct this simply by replacing "to score" with "and scored" or something similar that removes the implied intent. Correcting instances of false purpose based on word order is a simple matter of adjusting the order of the words in the poorly-constructed sentence.

False purpose is sometimes used intentionally, usually in order to deceive readers into thinking that, for better or for worse, someone did a particular action with the intent of bringing about particular consequences. This is particularly common in sports reporting and in political commentary. A sports commentator may, for instance, want to praise an athlete by making it seem that some unexpected positive byproduct of his actions was completely intentional. Conversely, a political commentator may try to attack a politician by suggesting that some negative result of a policy change was the actual intent of the politician.


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