HIM CHAN
Does the word "attribute to" work with both good things and bad things? For example: Who accounts for this mess? To who do you attribute the mess? Can I say something like this? Many thanks.
Nov 1, 2017 12:06 PM
Answers · 4
P.S. as Mikkel says, "attribute" is fairly formal and dignified, and does not go well with "mess," which is informal and colloquial. You would be more likely to say "Who made this mess?" Also, in your example the correct form of the "who" is "whom," because it is not a subject, but an (indirect?) object: "To whom do you attribute this mess?" In real life, native English speakers ignore this distinction most of the time. You can just use "who" all the time and nobody but a copy editor or an English teacher will complain. Having started a sentence with the formal words "To whom do you attribute..." you are committed to a formal tone of voice, and you would probably use a different word than "mess." Possibilities: "To whom do you attribute this disarray?" "To whom do you attribute this chaotic state of affairs?" "To whom do you attribute this bedlam?" All of these sound more like a professor or schoolteacher than a normal native speaker!
November 1, 2017
"Attribute to" has other related meanings, as well. For example, on the internet, you may see a posting with a quotation next to the name of the person who supposedly said it. The quotation has been "attributed to" that person. Quite often, the attribution is incorrect. For example, the quotation "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" is often attributed to Albert Einstein. In fact, he never said it. Einstein is sometimes called a "quote magnet." If there is a good saying, and people aren't sure who said it, if it sounds intelligent they will attribute it to Einstein; if it sounds witty they will attribute it to Mark Twain; and if it sounds comically self-contradictory they will attribute it to Yogi Berra.
November 1, 2017
Yes, it does. "Attribute to" is often connected with cause and effect. It only concerns cause and effect, not whether the effect was good or bad. "What caused X?" can be answered by saying "X can be attributed to Y." It does not carry any feelings about whether X and Y are good things or bad. "Dick Wolf tells me that he’s not surprised that “Cold Justice” has been renewed for a third season of 10 episodes. And, Wolf says, the show’s success can be attributed largely to its hosts: Ex-prosecutor Kelly Siegler and former CSI Yolanda McClary." Something good--the success of the show--is attributed to its hosts. They made the show successful. "The global resurgence of whooping cough can be attributed to immunological failures of vaccines." Something bad--a resurgence of the disease, whooping cough--can be attributed to ineffective vaccines. "What percentage of Coach's stock price can be attributed to growth?" Here, the judgement is more or less neutral. This is a headline for an article that tries to explain how much of the rise in the stock price is the result of business growth, and how much is just the result of investors' emotional feelings about the company.
November 1, 2017
"Attribute to" can be used about both good and bad things, but both your sentences don't work in my opinion. I find them both unnatural and ambiguous. You could say "Who is responsible for this mess?" and "who caused this mess?" for instance. For examples of how to use "attribute to" you could check http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/attribute
November 1, 2017
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HIM CHAN
Language Skills
Chinese (Cantonese), English
Learning Language
English