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“A lack thereof”: Here’s What it Means and How You Use it

“A lack thereof”: Here’s What it Means and How You Use it

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There are certain words and expressions in the English language that don’t come by often, but when they do, they stick out from the rest and become memorable.

What makes these words and expressions unique can be one of many things. Some of them sound pleasant, while others may make you cringe.

After all, a word like “moist” has been found to be universally hated by the English speaking community just because of how it sounds.

Some words are memorable for coming across as very formal, whereas other expressions are remembered for being a product of colloquial speech, the kind that would never make it to a legal document.

Speaking of legal documents, there is a legalese expression that you might have come across a few times, and, to my mind, it is quite unforgettable. I’m talking about the expression “a lack thereof.”

Not only does this expression sound strange, but it is also used in the most bizarre way possible, overturning the entire meaning of a sentence.

To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, let’s see what “a lack thereof” means and how it is used.


What does “a lack thereof” mean?

This is a phrase that means that whatever was just mentioned is missing or lacking in some way. For instance, when you say, “His confidence, or lack thereof, was the reason he failed the test” you are saying that his lack of confidence caused him to fail the test.

Now, obviously, the above example might strike many of you as strange.

After all, who talks like that? And, why take the roundabout way to just say that he wasn’t confident so he failed his test?

We will answer all this and more.

On a side note, it is worth noting that “Lackthereof” is also the name of a solo project by one of the founding members of the band Menomena Danny Seim.


Where does “a lack thereof” come from?

Before anything, let’s begin by breaking this expression down.

The two main components are the words “lack” and “thereof.”

“Lack” is a noun, and it means to be without or to not have enough of something.



When a country experiences a brain drain, it is basically having to deal with a lack of talent.


“Thereof” is a bit of an archaic word, the kind that you are more likely to find in the bible than in a modern-day novel.

It is an adverb, and it is used to refer to something previously mentioned.


A problem and the solution thereof are presented in this textbook.


Another way to rephrase the above sentence would be “A problem and its solution are presented in this textbook.”

If you have been following our blog for some time, you might have seen our discussions on what distinguishes formal writing from informal writing. One factor that we always circle back to is wordiness.

The more wordy a sentence is, the more formal it comes across.

As a result, it should be clear that “thereof” is not only wordy but also mostly reserved for very formal documents and speeches.

Now, when you put “lack” with “thereof,” you get an expression that states that whatever was previously mentioned is deficient or is without in some way.



The children’s manners, or lack thereof, got them into a lot of trouble.

The above sentence is saying that the children got into plenty of trouble because they lacked manners.

His family has never asked him about his career, or lack thereof.

This is an interesting sentence. On the one hand, it is telling that his family doesn’t involve itself with his career. On the other hand, the author of the sentence makes an interjectional side note, telling us that the person in question doesn’t actually have a career.


Different ways of using “lack thereof”

The two examples above exhibit very different uses of the phrase “lack thereof.”

In the first sentence, “lack thereof” adds important information. It lets us know what was wrong with the children’s manners and why it got them into trouble. This is why you would be forgiven for not using commas around “lack thereof” in this example.


The children’s manners or lack thereof got them into a lot of trouble.


Without “lack thereof,” we would understand that the children’s manners caused problems, but we wouldn’t be clear on why these problems came to be. We might assume that the children were too polite for their own good. We also might be forgiven for thinking that maybe their manners weren’t suited to the context they were in.

However, “lack thereof” clears up all of this possible confusion and lets us know that the problems came about because the children lacked manners.

A very similar sentence in meaning would be the following.


The children’s manners, or rudeness to be more exact, got them into trouble.

To simplify later discussions, we will call this type 1.


Now, in the second sentence, “lack thereof” doesn’t add any extra information to the original sentence but lets us know what the author thinks of the man’s career.

In other words, if we were to remove it, it wouldn’t change much in the original sentence, and we wouldn’t be confused at all.


His family never asked him about his career.

We just wouldn’t have that extra tidbit, that the author thinks that the man has no career.

This will be type 2.


There is a third way of using “lack thereof.”



Her social skills, or lack thereof, will determine whether she gets the job or not.

Here, “lack thereof” is also used in an interjectional fashion, yet it isn’t adding any new information to the sentence. It isn’t even letting the author comment on how he perceives her social skills.>


If she has social skills, she will get the job. Alternatively, if she lacks social skills, she will not be able to get the job.

Obviously, this alternative phrasing is a bit longer, but its purpose is demonstrative in nature, so I guess it’s ok.

And, finally, this last one will be type 3.


Alternative phrases to “a lack thereof”

As mentioned earlier, “a lack thereof” can come across as stuffy, which is why you’ll find it in formal documents and legal paperwork.

However, when speaking informally, you might want to use an alternative that is more palatable. And, it should go without saying that this alternative will depend on how “a lack thereof” is used.


Alternatives to type 1

Type 1 is when “a lack thereof” adds important information to the sentence and lets us know how a certain deficiency affected an outcome. Let’s look back at the example we used.

The children’s manners or lack thereof got them into a lot of trouble.


We’ve already seen one alternative, using “rudeness to be more precise” as an interjectional statement.

However, if you want an alternative phrase that will work across the board, then you might want to change the structure of the sentence. More precisely, you want to use the verb “lack.”

The children lacked manners, which got them into a lot of trouble.


Or, if you don’t want to put the fact that they got into a lot of trouble in a relative clause, you could say the following.


The fact that the children lacked manners got them into a lot of trouble.


Alternatives to type 2

This is the type where “a lack thereof” adds inessential information to the sentence, and this information tends to be an interjectional statement by the author.

Again, let’s revisit the previous examples:


His family has never asked him about his career, or lack thereof.


Since “lack thereof” is an interjectional statement, you can replace it with another interjectional statement that would be easier for the reader.

One obvious choice is going for a simple noun phrase.

His family has never asked him about his career, a career that is almost non-existent.


Alternatives to type 3

This last type is the one where “a lack thereof” is used instead of “whether.” So, the simplest alternative would just be to use “whether.”

Her social skills, or lack thereof, will determine whether she gets the job or not.

Whether she has social skills or not will determine whether she gets the job or not.


”Lack thereof” in pop culture

Even though most stuffy words and phrases never make it into pop culture, “lack thereof” managed to worm its way.

Danny Seim, known for being one of the founding members of Menomena, an indie rock band that came out from Portland, Oregon, also had a solo project called “Lackthereof.”

Lackthereof released several albums, the first six of which were recorded at home and handed to friends of Seim.

In 2005, Lackthereof’s seventh album was released by FILMguerrero, an independent record label.