You were to blame .

You were to be blamed.

What is the difference between these two sentences in terms of meaning?

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    Please do some searching before asking a question. This is the second result of the Google search of "to be blamed or to blame". – M.A.R. Dec 11 '15 at 13:25
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    @IͶΔ Many ELLs would not necessarily recognize the similarity between ["were to blame vs. were to be blamed"] and ["be to blame vs. be to be blamed"]. Second, not every ELL can be expected to conduct a web search using those exact keywords on the same search engine you used, which would be configured to yield the same results. Third, not every ELL would recognize that the result you mentioned might likely answer the question. Fourth, that result does not currently answer the question. Fifth, in my opinion, your language, though certainly not rude, is likely to be interpreted as inhospitable. – Jim Reynolds Feb 17 '16 at 16:40
  • @Jim any SE user is expected to do some research. I haven't voted to close this but my first comment is the reason for my downvote. And well, on the Net everyone misinterprets everything. Sometimes politeness is taken as sarcasm, and sometimes serious business is taken as inhospitality. We're stretching this ELL cuddling too far. The same issue should exist more or less in other SEs, but it surprisingly doesn't. I don't let sympathy get in the way of moderating the site. (Disclaimer: I'm an ELL) – M.A.R. Feb 17 '16 at 18:10
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    @IͶΔ Maybe we can agree that there will always be a tension between having no standards/expectations on one extreme, and on the other "allowing in" only "learners" who are already quite learned. Hopefully we can tolerate our differences and focus at times on the fact that we all somehow get something sometimes from the enterprise. I think we are especially challenged trying to maintain standards and values that thinking people will sometimes see as being in conflict with each other. – Jim Reynolds Feb 18 '16 at 3:29
  • I don't think like that @Jim. Any learner can put some effort into learning how to ask and what to ask. I don't want to isolate learners and I'm not a treasure hunter. I want to separate content, not people. – M.A.R. Feb 18 '16 at 13:11

It's an important question that's confusing to many non-native speakers. I am a non-native speaker, too.

As I have learnt, the word "blame" is a transitive verb as well as a noun.

You were to blame.

You were to be blamed.

Both the sentences are different in meaning.

In the first sentence "to blame" is an idiom, in which the word blame is a noun, though many people say that it's to-infinitive. When you say you were to blame, it means it was your fault or you were responsible for something bad you had done.

On the other hand, the other sentence is in the passive. It doesn't mean that you were held responsible for something. Instead, it means you were to be held responsible for something bad you had done.

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  • +1 Good information. AND: It's not clear that the OP (or other ELLs would understand what you were to be made responsible means). I think a better answer would make this more plain. Not an easy task I think. I'm going to give it a try. – Jim Reynolds Feb 17 '16 at 16:30
  • @Jim Reynold, Please edit my answer to make it more understandable. – Khan Feb 17 '16 at 17:41
  • Your answer is really valuable, in my opinion. Non-native speakers often understand other learner's questions and problems better than native speakers do, because you have gone through the struggle (and continue to)! I'm not exactly sure how to better say what you want to say in that particular area of "made responsible" vs "made to be responsible". Do you understand my answer? It is saying the same thing? Keep contributing! – Jim Reynolds Feb 17 '16 at 18:02
  • @Jim Reynold, I always appreciate the way you explain things to the learner. I understand your answer well and agree that it's the same as mine but in different words. – Khan Feb 18 '16 at 2:10
  • I think this is a good answer, but a couple of clarifications: "to blame" is actually an adjective made up of two words. It describes the state of being responsible for something. "were to be blamed" is a past potential form of the verb, which means that at some point in the past, it was expected that you would be blamed later. ("are to be blamed" is the present tense equivalent, which means it's expected you will be blamed in the future.) – Foogod Mar 19 at 17:48

You were to blame.

Whatever problem resulted, it was "your" fault. (Whoever "you" is referring to.)

You were to be blamed.

Whatever problem resulted was considered "your" fault. (Whoever "you" is referring to.) Here one or more persons have decided that the problem was your fault and that you were to bear responsibility. It is ambiguous if you are a scapegoat or if you really caused the problem. It might be also that you are a boss and inadequately supervised the person who actually made the mistake.

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  • It wouldn't necessarily be that one or more persons have made a decision in the past that "you were to be blamed/bear responsibility". It could mean that from where the speaker is positioned in time, such a decision would be made later (you were to be can mean you would (later) be), and I suppose most often does. – Jim Reynolds Mar 16 at 10:47

You were to blame.

Means that the speaker blamed you for something, or is now blaming you for something that occurred in the past.

It may also signify someone telling you that one or more others blamed you.

It's possible that the blame may have ended (I thought you were to blame, but now I know it was not your fault.) It's also possible that the blame remains.

You were to be blamed.

Can have two likely meanings.

A. You are (or at some past point, were) thought blameworthy.

B. At some time in the past, a decision or plan was made to blame you.

C. It can be used as a way to say that something would happen after a point in the past. First, they thought the house burned down because of an accident, but you were to be blamed (for it later, when they found matches in your pocket and a note saying: "Reminder to self: Burn down house."

In all of A, B, and C, the blame may also either endure to the present, or may have ended before the present.

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  • "to blame" does not necessarily mean that anyone actually has performed the action of blaming you. It is possible, for example, for somebody to be to blame for something even though nobody actually knows it (or even if nobody knows that thing even happened). It simply means you were responsible for something happening. – Foogod Mar 19 at 17:51
  • @Foo If a speaker or narrator says (or writes) You were to blame, then you have been blamed. If someone says You were to be blamed the speaker indicates that you will be blamed after the time in which the utterance is anchored. No, I’m afraid that if you are responsible for something happening, but no one accuses you of it or attributes responsibility to you, you have not been blamed. – Jim Reynolds Mar 21 at 4:47
  • You have not been blamed, but you are still to blame. "to be to blame" simply means that you can potentially be blamed for it, not that you necessarily already have been. It is possible, for example, for an omniscient observer to write "He was still to blame for the accident, even though nobody knew it happened yet." – Foogod Mar 23 at 16:09
  • Omniscient observers don’t use you. They use the third person. To utter You were to blame indicates that blame has been placed. – Jim Reynolds Mar 25 at 10:49
  • I think you're really just nitpicking. Yes, in that one specific use, it is usually (not always) an accusation of blame, but "you" is not the only subject which you can use with "to blame". My point was that in many other contexts the verb "to blame" can be used without implying that someone has actually been blamed. As another example, consider a hypothetical context: "If you do that, then you will be to blame." This does not say that anybody will definitely blame you, it just says that if you do that, you will be responsible (and could potentially be blamed by someone). – Foogod Mar 25 at 20:27

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