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I have two sentences:

Who is the responsible for let the window opened?

and this one:

Who is responsible for leaving the window open?

My question is, are both sentences grammatically correct? Do both sentences makes sense? And finally, are they equivalent?

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At your current level of English, you should probably not be trying to use more "complex" forms such as "Who is responsible for X?" at all (which can mean either "Who did/created X?" or "Whose job is it to ensure X happens/exists?"). In your case, you should just use "Who left the window open?" –  FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 18:29
@FumbleFingers I think you may enjoy my answer (which I finished before reading your comment here, I promise). –  Tyler James Young Mar 27 at 19:04
@Tyler: It is indeed a good answer, and I can well believe you would have been still composing it for some time after I posted my brief comment. But the sheer length of the answer (and the breadth of aspects which needed to be covered) simply reinforces my assertion that this particular OP must learn to walk before he can run. –  FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 21:11
@FumbleFingers If you don't try stuff, how will you learn? Both sentences are comprehensible and both convey just about the right message so nothing much is lost by experimenting with them. –  David Richerby Mar 27 at 21:57
@David: Whilst I agree there's some merit in the "thrown in at the deep end" approach to learning to swim, I'm not convinced it really works very well with language acquisition. Personally, I was virtually incapable of conducting a conversation in French, even though I could easily read quite complex literary texts at the time. It was several weeks after I started living in France that it finally dawned on me I should start simple, and gradually build up my spoken repertoire. Within a matter of days, things started to rapidly improve. –  FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 22:33

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Who is responsible for leaving the window open?

This is completely correct. It is somewhat high register, and would normally be interpreted as a question of who should receive blame for the offense of not closing the window when it should have been closed.

The other option is not correct, but there’s actually a lot going on there. Let’s go piece by piece:


“Responsible” can also be used in positive contexts, to describe someone charged with a certain duty. Because the “act” of leaving the window open is really a sin of not acting, it is fairly clear what is meant here, but there are cases where a different verb might make this construction less clear. For example:

Who is responsible for cutting the cake?

This would be a valid question in cases where the cake was not supposed to be cut (and someone cut it anyway), but the default interpretation would be that this is a question about who should cut the cake.

Definite article
The responsible” could be used to collectively label a group of people who would each be described by this adjective. This is a fairly specific, advanced usage, but is similar to “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” It doesn’t really make sense to use it here, because the rest of the sentence is formed in reference to a single person and not a generalized group and you don’t mention a specific entity for “responsible” to describe as an adjective. A possible correction of this could come from adding mention of a “person”:

  1. Who is the person responsible...
  2. Who is the responsible person...

Be careful with option #2, though. That order makes it sound like you are describing the person as responsible in general (positive characteristic) and runs the risk of making this a garden path sentence where the audience has to mentally go back and re-interpret “responsible” as an indication of blame. “Who” is allowed to be general, but if you add “the” you’ll have to specify.

Let it or leave it

Colloquial use
Similar to “let it be”, there are regional, colloquial uses of “let it” that would connote something similar or identical to “leave it”. As mentioned above, the rest of the phrase is fairly formal so it would be a jarring mismatch of registers within the context of this here collocation (see what I did there?).

Outside these regions and registers (and the rest of the sentence currently does pull us out of casual register), the more formal or literal definition of “let” takes over.

Semantic difference
If someone “leaves” a window open, it means that—despite opportunity and/or obligation to close the window—they failed to do so. The usual interpretation of “let”, on the other hand, would suggest that the window is going to open unless someone intervenes. If the situation is that a faulty spring causes the window to open unless someone prevents it, “let” might be the more appropriate word for the question. It’s still a question of inaction in either case, but the implication is either simple negligence or failure to sufficiently counteract a force that would open the window.

Adjective/verb shift
As Jay notes in his sage comment, the choice between “leave” and “let” has an effect on whether “open” is an adjective or a verb. When a window is left open, “open” is the state of the window; when it is let open, it is allowed to open.

This is why your choice of “opened” doesn’t fit. “Let” makes the reader expect a verb, and as a verb “open” is secondary to “let” and should be in its base form. “Opened” works fine as an adjective and could be substituted into the correct version of the sentence without making it ungrammatical, but most people would probably just say “open” anyway.


Possibly the primary problem with the “let” phrasing is that it does not employ the gerund (as your selection of the “gerund” tag indicates you are aware). What’s happening here is a gerund clause used as subject.

Note that this is all only necessary because “is” locks you into a present reference-frame. The simpler question would be:

Who left the window open?

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+1 because it's an excellent answer overall. But I'm not convinced about that final "Technically..." point. It's certainly not obvious to me that "The Romans were responsible for establishing a coherent network of roads across Britain" would be any more "correct" if it had been phrased as "...responsible for having established...", even though much of that coherent network still exists today. –  FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 21:18
@FumbleFingers Yeah, I was well outside my comfort zone there. Should I just throw that part out? –  Tyler James Young Mar 27 at 21:30
Well, you did anyway. I must be honest, I can't say exactly what if any difference it makes whether you use "gerund" having + past participle or stick with the simpler (but still gerund-based) establishing. I think it may just be a matter of emphasising the "temporal frame of reference" (but I'm out of my comfort zone with that too! :) –  FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 22:10
"The Romans were responsible for establishing roads" means "They had been assigned the task of establishing roads"; "The Romans were responsible for having established roads" means "It was the Romans' fault that we have roads." –  David Richerby Mar 27 at 22:11
@David: I think that's a totally spurious distinction for the specific instance I cited (which uses the "simple gerund", and which I'm quite certain was never intended to imply the Romans were "assigned" to that task). It's feasible you could come up with a different context where such a distinction could defended, but off-hand I can't think of one, and I'd be far from convinced it's a particularly general principle - if indeed it applies at all. –  FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 22:22

Only the second one is correct, for two reasons:

  • "Responsible" is an adjective, so you can't say "the responsible" in this particular case (though you could say "the responsible" in some sentences, in the meaning of "the responsible ones" - but it doesn't work in this sentence)... If you really want to use "the", you could go with: "Who are the responsible ones for leaving the window open?", but your second sentence sounds better.

  • "for let the window open" is also wrong - because you need the -ing form

Note that "for letting the window open" would not mean the same as "for leaving the window open" - the second one implies somebody actively opened it, while the first one implies the window wasn't closed correctly, and opened on its own - the person responsible for its opening is likely either the person who failed to close it correctly, or the person who saw it opening, and didn't do anything about it. So which verb you use is up to you, depending on what you're trying to say.

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Very true - but I'm a new user and couldn't do that yet (I tried). Apparently, now I can. Not sure what changed, but yay! (That said, my original answer was written without seeing the other answer altogether) –  Alicja Z Mar 27 at 17:09
Yes, "the responsible" in much the same way as "the good", "the bold and the beautiful" (yikes), etc. Good point - failed to mention that, will edit to fix. –  Alicja Z Mar 27 at 17:11
Hmm, fair point about the "let" - didn't notice that the window could also open on its own. @Ricardo, you may want to check the revised answer :) –  Alicja Z Mar 27 at 17:15
Thanks! When I've translated the sentence to english and they said me that the sentence was wrong, nobody explained "why" it was wrong. –  Ricardo Giaviti Mar 27 at 17:26
Note that "... letting the window open" and "... leaving the window open" look similar but are different constructions. In the first, "open" is a verb. In the second, "open" is an adjective. You could say, "Who is responsible for leaving the window dirty?", that makes sense. But you can't say, "Who is responsible for letting the window dirty?" You could say, "... for letting the window become dirty?" –  Jay Mar 27 at 17:27

The second sentence is "correct", but contains a nuance that is not explicit and is in fact the opposite of its literal meaning.

Literally interpreted, the person is asking who has the responsibility of the leaving the window open - as if leaving the window open is a requirement, and some person has responsibility for ensuring that the window is, indeed, left open.

However, the nuanced meaning of this is that the window should NOT have been left open, and the word "responsible" is asking who accepts responsibility for having left it open incorrectly. No person literally has the "responsibility" of leaving the window open.

The first sentence is utterly incorrect. It is not correct in any sense, neither literal nor nuanced. Its meaning may be understood, but it is not correctly structured.

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Art, please learn the difference between it's and its. The readers of this board are trying to learn proper English, and giving them bad examples hurts them. –  Phil Perry Mar 28 at 14:21

The existing answers already cover a lot so I'll just fill in some gaps.

Who is the responsible for let the window opened?

This is a grammatical mess and should read

Who is responsible for letting the window open?

It means, "Who allowed the window to become open?" The implication is that the window came open on its own, for example because it wasn't properly closed on a windy day. The person who is responsible is the one who didn't close it properly.

Who is responsible for leaving the window open?

is grammatically correct. It might be interpreted as a rather officious version of "Who left the window open?" but that's not actually what it means. To be responsible for an action is to be assigned the task of doing that thing, so the question is actually asking, "Whose job is it to make sure the window stays open?" As such, it's a rather unusual phrasing, since "leave open" implies a lack of action, whereas "responsible for" means the action is somebody's job. A more natural way of phrasing it would be,

Who is responsible for keeping the window open?

But, really, it seems that you mean,

Who left the window open?

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I assure you that someone who is responsible for damages or other bad things is not “assigned the task of doing” them. They are “to be blamed”. –  Tyler James Young Mar 28 at 2:12
@TylerJamesYoung That's being responsible for things, which is, as you say, different from being responsible for an action. –  David Richerby Mar 28 at 9:05
I agree that the sentence is a little strange, but I don't think most people would hear it and assume that someone had been put in charge of leaving the window open. They'd wonder instead who is to blame for the fact that it was left open in error. It's at the very least an ambiguity and not “actually what it means” as you've said. –  Tyler James Young Mar 28 at 14:15

The second one is correct but not the first one.

The correct ones -

  1. Who is responsible for letting the window open?
  2. Who is responsible for leaving the window open?

But they are not interchangeable, as we can't interchange "let" and "leave". Yet in some cases they are interchangeable like these -

  1. Leave it there.
  2. Let it be there.

Scene 1 -

The windows were closed, and everybody knew it's closed, as there were instruction to keep them closed. A little boy opened it and when his parents saw the window open, parents asked "Who is responsible for letting the window open?"

Scene 2 -

The windows were open and everyone knew it. Suddenly it started to rain, and it was blowing storm outside. Rain water were coming into room through the open windows. Everone got busy to close the windows. One window was missed. And when detected one asked "Who is responsible for leaving the window open?"

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Scene 1 isn't right either. "Letting the window open" can only work if the window can open itself. "Letting the window be opened" could apply to a babysitter, who did not open the window, but also failed to prevent the child from opening it. Neither of these apply to the person who acted to open the window. –  Ben Voigt Mar 27 at 18:07

After a preposition such as for follows a noun (per definition) or the noun form of a verb, a gerund. A structure preposition + bare infinitive is not possible.

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