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This is from a dictionary

be down to somebody

if an action or decision is down to you, it is your responsibility

It’s down to me to make sure that everyone is happy.

And to be up to somebody has 2 meaning

a) used to say that someone can decide about something

You can pay weekly or monthly – it’s up to you.

b) used to say that someone is responsible for a particular duty

It’s up to the travel companies to warn customers of any possible dangers.

so the 2nd meaning of "to be up to somebody" is the same as "to be down to somebody"

Do both "it's down to him to fix the machine" and "it's up to him to fix the machine" mean his responsibility is to fix the machine?

But "it's up to him to fix the machine" sounds like he can decide not to do it if he wants to.

While "it's down to him to fix the machine" sounds like he must do it as a part of his responsibility.

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  • I would interpret "down to him" to mean there were other people who might have been able to fix the machine, but they couldn't do it, and now he is the last remaining person who can fix it. (Native US english speaker here) Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 16:31
  • Should "Can" in the title be something like "Can I say both"?
    – LSpice
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 17:57

2 Answers 2

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The distinction is slight, and quite probably ignored by most people, but it you were to force me to differentiate, then I'd say it depends on the 'number of potential candidates' for the task…

down to him

would imply there is no-one else who could do this, or that all other possibilities have been tried & failed, therefore, it's down to the last candidate for the task.

up to him

would imply it's his responsibility alone. There are no other candidates in contention for the task.

There is the potential for recursion in this. If there's a hierarchical list of people to whom it's 'up to', then it's 'up to' each of them until they refuse the opportunity… & eventually it's 'down to' the last on the list.
This doesn't disagree with my opening paragraph.

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  • 4
    In the UK we can use 'down to' to assign blame or responsibility for something that has already happened, e.g. 'The failure of our marriage is down to you because you shagged that waitress when we were on holiday in Magaluf', or 'The fact that we are broke is down to you because you invested all our savings in a Bitcoin scheme'. Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 9:11
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    Out of the number of potential candidates responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, this number has been reduced to 'you'. I don't think that disagrees with what I said. I did say the distinction is slight - but had it been up to me, the marriage would still be fine ;)) Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 9:18
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    I mostly agree with this, but to me "up to" emphasizes that that person has discretion about it. Maybe there are other candidates, maybe not, but we've decided that @gonefishin'again. gets to choose--they're the next person at the top of the list, as opposed to the last person at the bottom ("down to"). (I see "up to" as more common and more casual than "down to".)
    – Tiercelet
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 15:52
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    For me, there is no significant difference in meaning between any of these options, that is why you will often find a qualifier attached, in actual usage.
    – MikeB
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 17:20
  • In this meaning of "down to", we can also replace "is down to" with "comes down to".
    – aschepler
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 20:32
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If something is up to somebody it means that person has a responsibility to take care of it, or make a decision. Nobody else will (or can) do it:

"It's up to her to fix this mess."

"I'm just driving, it's up to you where we go!"

You can use this phrase for saying that someone has a choice:

This meal comes with a side of either salad or potato waffles - it's up to you

In a way it's the same idea - you are the one who makes the decision - but it sounds more like a positive thing than a responsibility. But it's still your decision to make! It's up to you (to decide what you're going to have).


When X is down to Y, it usually means that Y is the cause of or reason for X. It's similar to the phrases it comes down to or boils down to - you're talking about the basis, the root of the issue. It's like getting to the bottom of something. So when you say something is down to someone, it means they're responsible for it (whether it's good or bad):

All this success is down to your hard work this year!

The damage is all down to that storm

The difference is that up to implies an action that needs to be taken, and who or what will be responsible for the outcome. Down to is used for the results of that outcome, the consequences of something, and to describe who or what is responsible for the resulting situation. They're used in different contexts - are we talking about something that will happen in the future, or something that already happened in the past?


Sometimes people will use down to in the up to sense, often when other people who could have taken responsibility no longer can, so there's nobody else. "It all falls down to you." (This is possibly a variation on falls to, and you can see how a down could end up added to falls!)

Either way, it should be clear from the context what they actually mean. Are we talking about cause, or effect?

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  • As a US English native speaker and resident, I'm familiar with "down to" one or more people implying other possibilities have been ruled out, as the answer by gone-fishin-again describes. Or "comes down to" can mean the same thing. I had not heard before of this usage relating a cause.
    – aschepler
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 20:30
  • @aschepler As a US English native speaker and lifelong resident, I almost never hear of anything being "down to" anyone in my own country. The first time I heard such a usage was in the phrase "down to me" in the Rolling Stones song "Under My Thumb," which clearly means "because of what I've done." I understand the phrase can have other meanings in other contexts, but it seems to me it is an idiom of British English.
    – David K
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 3:03

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