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Wonder what the last part of the sentence mean here?

He tried to give the impression that the Paralympic athlete was self-centred, contemptuous of his girlfriend and lacking responsibility.

Source: BBC

It seems the last part of the sentence is unclear. It is not clear what it is referring to, Is it?

It is telling about what the prosecutor made of the athlete. The athlete was self-centred, scornful of lacking responsibility in who? In his girlfriend? In himself?

If the answer is "of his girlfriend", could it have been written like:

He tried to give the impression that the Paralympic athlete was not taking responsibility and he was self-centred, and contemptuous of his girlfriend.

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I really think it is stated in a general sense , that he (Oscar Pistorius) lacked responsibility . Responsibility is a noun, you must understand this concept ... It is not an adjective .
re·spon·si·bil·i·ty (rĭ-spŏn′sə-bĭl′ĭ-tē) (from freedictionary.com).
n. pl. re·spon·si·bil·i·ties.
1. The state, quality or fact of being responsible.

  • You can make simple to complex or complex to simple ... It is your choice ! – Inquist Apr 10 '14 at 17:41
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    I agree with this answer. Someone can be irresponsible as a general character trait – it is not necessary that they lack responsibility toward someone. I think the prosecutor was trying to pin three bad character traits on the athlete, claiming that he was irresponsible, self-centred, and contemptuous of his girlfriend. – J.R. Apr 10 '14 at 20:23
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That is a quite unnatural English sentence that suffers from poor parallelism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallelism_(grammar)).

It is difficult to know what exactly is meant. I might re-word the sentence like this

He tried to give the impression that the Paralympic athlete was self-centred, contemptuous of his girlfriend and irresponsible.

Even so, the sentence is ambiguous because the English concept of responsibility is ambiguous: it can mean either acting responsibly (= being careful and prudent when acting), or it can mean having the tendency to take responsibility (= facing the consequences of one's actions by admitting that one's judgment and behavior was wrong), or both.

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Inquist has already identified in his answer the sense of 'responsibility' used in the text. Thus, here I will focus only on the second part of your question:

It is telling about what the prosecutor made of the athlete. The athlete was self-centred, scornful of lacking responsibility in who? In his girlfriend? In himself?

'Responsibility' can take prepositions 'for' and 'to', but not preposition 'in'. In fact, the meaning changes completely:

A. Oscar Pistorius has a responsibility for his girlfriend

means he has a duty to care for his girlfriend

B. Oscar Pistorius has a responsibility to this girlfriend

means he has to account for his actions to his girlfriend.

I guess you meant the sense in A. I agree with Inquist that this is not the sense of "lacking responsibility" used in the BBC text. In fact, the prosecutor has accused Oscar Pistorius of avoiding responsibility not only for shooting at his girlfriend but also for shooting at a number of other public spaces (a restaurant, a boat party, a moving car...).


Prepositions taken by noun 'responsibility'

'Responsibility' does not take the preposition 'in'. If you want to know what prepositions a word takes, you can look up a collocations dictionary (for example: ozdic.com).

In this dictionary you will find that 'responsibility' can take prepositions 'for' and 'to':

  • responsibility for + (job/duty)

    They're responsible for cleaning the engine

  • responsibility for + (failure/mistake/crime)

    Who was responsible for the mistake?

  • responsibility for + (consequence)

    To what degree do I accept responsibility for the success of each of my students?

  • responsibility to + (somebody/something)

    The prime minister is directly responsible to Parliament.

Note that although 'ozdic.com' does not include the preposition 'toward', it is possible to use it with the same meaning as 'to':

  • responsibility toward + (somebody/something)

    The prime minister is directly responsible toward Parliament.

'Responsibility' can also take the preposition 'of':

  • responsibility of + (role)

    He will take over the responsibilities of overseas director.


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I think it's a tricky sentence. An Oxford comma could have been made the sentence better to understand.

He tried to give the impression that the Paralympic athlete was self-centred, contemptuous of his girlfriend, and lacking responsibility.

This could have clarified that all three things are separate. But it does not have that comma so it may mean that he was contemptuous of his girlfriend and lacked responsibility toward her.

However, I also read somewhere that Oxford comma is not practiced by all (and is optional if the sentence makes clear sense without putting it) and in that sense, all three may again mean each apathy separate.

But as I said, the source is BBC, it's likely to miss the Oxford comma which is practiced in BrE.

So, IMO, considering the source (BrE), lacking responsibility is more connected with his girlfriend.

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