"obligation" vs "responsibility"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by better_in_time, Aug 16, 2010.

  1. better_in_time Senior Member

    Chinese, Thai
    I looked them up in the dictionary and they both seem to refer to something that needs to be done. For example, I feel that all the sentences below are grammatical. What are the differences between the two words?

    - Teachers have an obligation to treat all their students fairly.
    - Teachers have a responsibility to treat all their students fairly.
    - Janet will have responsibilty for the new advertising campaign.
    - Janet will have an obligation to run the new advertising campaign.

    Thanks for your help!
  2. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    Your examples are fine, and you're right that the words are simmilar.

    The difference for me is that a responsibility may or may not be met, wheras an obligation is something that one essentially cannot avoid doing. If you look up the verb "oblige", you will see what I mean.

    For instance, when I was young I had a responsibility to take out the trash, but I didn't always do it. I was not obliged to do it, so it was not an obligation. When I didn't do it, my parents would just bug me until I eventually did.
  3. better_in_time Senior Member

    Chinese, Thai
    thanks jacob!
  4. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
  5. MilkyBarKid Senior Member

    British English
    obligation: an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound.

    jacobtm did not have a moral or legal duty to carry out the garbage.

    The contrast with 'responsibility' is that...
    responsibility: having a duty to deal with/ensure something is carried out. It can be used without the sense of involving moral or legal issues:

    jacobtm's parents would not regard their son with shame for his 'immoral conduct', nor consider that he had broken a law of the land by not taking out the garbage.

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