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Cambridge Dictionary gives this definition and example about "be responsible for sb/sth"

to have control and authority over someone or something and the duty to take care of them

He is responsible for the council's waste management department

and this one about "hold sb/sth responsible"

to blame someone or something for something bad that happened

He was held responsible for the accident.

I guess I understand part of those. I see the difference.

First example indicates he is actually responsible for ...

second example means he is not necessarily actually responsible for ... Maybe, he should not be responsible for the accident.

Speaking of "should not", the following expressions seem to mean the same thing.

He should not be held responsible for the accident.

He should not be responsible for the accident.

I guess both of them indicate that people should not accuse him because of that accident. I really don't see the difference with addition of "should not".

Google Ngram shows that "should not be held responsible" is more commonly used than "should not be responsible". However, that graph does not seems helpful.

Am I missing something? Could someone please give a hint? Thanks in advance.

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  • No, these two phrases don't mean the same thing - one of them would have 'died out' by now if they did. You have the dictionary defs there, and say you understand them, so what't the problem? Mar 25, 2020 at 9:41
  • @MikeBrockington Thanks for your reminder. I've updated my OP. I don't really see the difference with addition of "should not".
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 25, 2020 at 9:46
  • So fundamentally you are asking why one phrase is more commonly used than another phrase that means something different? Mar 25, 2020 at 9:51
  • @MikeBrockington Not really. I really don't like talking about things generally. So, my OP is just about the meaning of those two phrases with addition of "should not".
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 25, 2020 at 10:02
  • Your question still says: "I guess I understand all of those. I see the difference." Mar 25, 2020 at 10:09

1 Answer 1

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Responsibility can be active or retrospective. For example, a parent is responsible for their children at all times, meaning they have duty, or responsibility to care for them. This kind of responsibility is continuous, ongoing. In a different way, you could be responsible for something that has happened - an incident, such as a car accident. It is this latter kind of responsibility where we use the term "held responsible", meaning you are regarded as being responsible for causing something either directly or by inaction.

Adding "should not" does not change whether it is forward-looking, or retrospective.

  • "He should not be responsible for those children" would mean you do not think the person should be in charge of children.
  • "He should not be held responsible for those children" would mean you do not think he is to blame for something the children did.

Translating that reasoning to an accident - to be responsible for an accident could imply that you deliberately caused it (but not necessarily - an accident is an accident). To be held responsible would mean to retrospectively decide that a particular person was to blame, perhaps after an investigation.

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  • Thank you. I see the difference in the examples of children. How about the examples of accident?
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 25, 2020 at 21:54

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