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(From A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe, Part II Cambridge Choir, chapter 19)

  • (Evelyn, William's mum, speaking)

Then she pulled out of his embrace. 'I'll try harder, but I'll tell you this: if Howard ever sticks a bunch of red tulips in my face again, I'll not be held accountable for what I do with them!'

Dad laughed then, and though William didn't get the joke he was relieved it was all OK again.

I have an issue with 'will' in this sentence. I would expect 'can' instead of 'will' there: 'I can't be held accountable for what I do with them'. For me 'will' conveys the bare future as a prediction there but that doesn't suffice in this context in my opinion.

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    Using will in "I'll not be" is quite suitable as an insistence, stronger than "I cannot be." Commented May 24 at 13:58
  • Why do you think it doesn't suffice in this context?
    – YonKuma
    Commented May 24 at 15:04
  • The format I'll not be [subject to some experience] is dated, formal and/or dialectal. Avoid it in favour of I won't be [forced to do that]. I've no idea if that particular (pseudo-fictitious) speaker was reflecting local dialect or a misguided attempt to sound formal / official, OR if the writer just made it up inappropriately. The difference between won't be and can't be is an irrelevancy here. Both versions are used with exactly the same meaning. Commented May 24 at 15:29
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    I will not be railroaded into citing inaccurate guidelines.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 24 at 16:27
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    Actually, the future prediction you don't think is appropriate in context is exactly what the author wanted to achieve. It narratively establishes the expectation of a future event. It's quite humorous because, usually, the future can't be predicted with such deterministic fervor.
    – JBH
    Commented May 25 at 3:48

2 Answers 2

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  • "I can not be held responsible" would mean that it would not be possible for anyone to hold you accountable.
  • "I will not be held responsible" means that you personally will not accept any responsibility.

The phrase in question is a recognisable idiom. The meaning at face value is that the conditional action would make you so angry it would provoke you to do something for which you could be held "accountable" (eg you would cause physical harm to the other party). It is most often hyperbole - more an expression of how angry something would make you than an actual threat of carrying out such a thing. But, the hyperbole wouldn't work if you said "I could not" because that would mean that anybody else would excuse your actions - that what you do could be beyond prosecution, for example - when what it actually means is that you would be so angry you would excuse your actions as if there were mitigating circumstances.

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  • Minor comment: "I can not be held responsible" should mean that the speaker thinks that it's not possible for them to be held responsible, or that no reasonable person would hold them responsible. For example, if I stole and refused to return highly classified documents, I could say "I can't be held responsible", but other parties might disagree.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented May 24 at 17:18
  • The question says accountable, not responsible. To be held accountable is as much an idiom as to be held responsible.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 24 at 17:22
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I can not be held accountable [for some situation]. is just a statement. In the sense of: It is not my fault. It is a disclaimer.

I will not be held accountable [for some situation] implies you will actively fight any attempt to hold you accountable for it.

This is the use of will both as a future and a strong statement of disagreement.

  • No, I will not write up the notes to that meeting.
  • We will not be joining the other protesters. [with a strong tone when spoken]
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  • No. A disclaimer is something that legitimately waives responsibility, even if the speaker's grasp of the law is shaky. In the context of the OP's example, it is just hyperbole. There are some things that one cannot waive responsibility for.
    – Astralbee
    Commented May 26 at 17:49
  • Disclaimers are not necessarily legal at all. I can't be held responsible is a way of disclaiming (refusing to acknowledge or denying) accountability. Whereas you say: not be possible for anyone to hold you accountable. That's wrong because it is just a speaker's opinion about a situation.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 26 at 17:53

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