Accountable vs Responsible

Discussion in 'English Only' started by King Crimson, Sep 2, 2009.

  1. King Crimson

    King Crimson Modus in fabula

    Milano, Italia
    Is there a difference between these two words or are they synonims? Indeed, most of the dictionaries I have looked up translates "accountable" as "responsabile" and we can say "to hold someone accountable/responsible".

    My interpretation is that there are instances where the two terms may be synonims, but in many other cases they are not, e.g. we say (from WR) "High winds are responsible for the capsized boat" but I think that saying that the winds are "accountable" for that has a different meaning, if any.
  2. xjm Senior Member

    WI, USA
    English - USA
    I think only people can be accountable for something, whereas any subject can be responsible for (or cause) something.

    The drought was responsible for the fires.
    She was accountable for her actions.

    Note that someone can be accountable for something they didn't do or cause. E.g., someone might be held accountable if their dog bites someone else.

    Note also that simply "being accountable" (on its own, without an object) is different from "being responsible." "Being accountable" means that your actions can be explained or justified; whereas "being responsible" means to display a character trait of responsibility or trustworthiness in general.

    Finally, from a thesaurus:
    (How's that for confusing?)

  3. SurferStan New Member

    A child maybe responsible for breaking a window, but his parents are probably accountable :)
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The words are different for me.

    Responsible is a very general term, with the kind of meaning outlined above.

    Accountable is a very specific term.
    If I am accountable for something, it means that I have responsibilities to someone else, or to some other body. This other body will require me to "account" for something.

    I could be "responsible" without feeling "accountable".
  5. xjm Senior Member

    WI, USA
    English - USA
    Yes, come to think of it, saying "the wind was accountable" would mean that, somehow, the wind could be called to account--made to explain itself, or somehow punished. Surreal and entertaining, but not something you'd expect to hear in conversation. :)
  6. lishanran Member

    Hi guys,

    Could someone help me explain the difference between hold accountable and hold responsible.

    Here is the context: The clumsy urban planning by policy makers should hold accountable/responsible for the disasters as the people indeed did not have any choice restricted by the unlivable conditions.

    Which one is right in this context? be more formal as this is extracted from an academic article. I will appreciate it if someone could give a detained explanation, thanks a lot!
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2010
  7. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Hello, Lishanran. I understand the phrases "to hold somebody accountable" and "to hold somebody responsible" to mean the same thing. Is the sentence in the context yours? If not, who wrote it?
  8. lishanran Member

    So prompt, thanks a lot. yeah, it is my own article. do you have any suggestions?
  9. Hagar New Member

    Hiberno-English 7 Gaeilge
    <As far as I know> the difference is that someone who is held accountable for something potentially faces an actual penalty for failure whereas someone who is simply responsible may not.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 16, 2012
  10. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    I suggest that you change "should hold accountable/responsible" to "should be held accountable/responsible". The first version is unclear. The version using "should be held" makes it clear that the policy makers and their clumsy urban planning are at fault.
  11. lishanran Member

    Thank you very much! as a non-native English speaker, sometimes I am really confused how to express ideas clearly especially for the tiny differences among different words. I am trying to write a response to a paper published in Science, I know there are several other grammatical problems still.
  12. GoodOldMonkey Member

    English - New
    Hi, Lishanran!

    I'm with Hagar: responsible may be in theory only, or it may mean that you caused whatever, but accountable means you have to account for what you've done, and risk some sanction. So I'd go for "should be held accountable" or even "must be held accountable".
  13. lishanran Member

    Hi, Hagar, thanks a lot! have a nice day. here it is already 3 am in Singapore.
  14. lishanran Member

    Hi, GoodOldMonkey, thanks for your great help.
  15. Rana_pipiens

    Rana_pipiens Senior Member

    Salt Lake City, Utah
    USA / English
    I would not say accountable in this context. Much more than responsible, it implies suffering consequences -- being punished or being expected to fix the problem.

    You can't punish a plan. A plan that caused a problem won't remedy it. Thus, I don't see how planning can be held accountable.

  16. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I agree with Rana. You might try:

    Policy makers should hold:cross: be held accountable for the disasters brought about by their clumsy urban planning, as the people indeed did not have any choice, restricted by the unlivable conditions.
  17. GoodOldMonkey Member

    English - New
    Rana and JamesM are right for sure, and it makes a fine example: bad planning may have been responsible for the trouble, but it's the planners who must be held accountable.

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