Checking on the validity of "to charge" as a correct fit for "to claim", "to assert" in some previous OP, I came across the expression "in charge of" pointed up by the Collins dictionary -- besides its shared meaning [having responsibility for] -- as an Americanism for "under the care of".


34. In charge of: a. Having responsibility for -- b. US: under the care of

Collins English Dictionary, complete and unabridged, Ed. 2003

The funny thing to it is both meanings of "in charge of" obviously go in opposite directions, to such an extent that -- with an unclear or unspecified context -- saying "The old lady was in charge of her grandchildren" could mean that the old lady had responsibility for her grandchildren (for instance, because both parents are dead), but also just about the contrary, i.e the old lady was under the care of her grandchilden (both parents are dead and the old lady [their gramdmother] suffers from severe Alzheimer's).

Which of those meanings of "in charge of" is actually more common to modern day AmE?


Parents can safely leave their children in charge of the babysitter. source

  • 2
    Apparently Thomas Hardy used the expression in the same way, but it's very unusual (and ambiguous). Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 23:03
  • I can’t imagine why this is marked “American English”.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 23:41

4 Answers 4


The OED notes this double-edge grammatical sword under sense 13b, which notes that this phrase is used both actively and passively:

13 b. in charge (of) is used both actively and passively; e.g. to leave children in charge of a nurse, or a nurse in charge of the children. The latter is the more recent use; thence officer, clerk, curate in charge, i.e. having actually the charge or care (of a place, business, etc.), ‘on duty’.

I wouldn’t expect to encounter the earlier, “reversed” direction in modern writing, at least not without an extra the:

  • leave children in (or under) the charge of a nurse

While the children may try to take advantage, the parents would never leave them in charge of the babysitter. (ref) They would leave them in the charge of the baby sitter. (ref)


I think the phrasing is slightly different. Your reference makes a distinction between the two uses:

in charge of--having the care or supervision of: She is in charge of two libraries.

Also, in the charge of --under the care or supervision of: The books are in the charge of the accounting office.

While I would understand the intended meaning of the example you provide, it really should be safely leave their children in the charge of the babysitter. Furthermore, this use sounds outdated. It would sound more natural to use with the babysitter or in the care of the babysitter.

  • You didn't check on the good reference, Mike. I said in the CD [Collins Dictionary]. Please check it back. dictionary.reference.com/browse/in+charge+of thefreedictionary.com/in+charge
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 23:10
  • @NourishedGourmet. Yes, I copied the quote from your reference. If you scroll down to #49, option b.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 1:55
  • Correct, but it explicitly days 49 b. also in the charge of. "Also" means that both "in charge of" and "in the charge of" can be used interchangeably to mean "under the case" -- in AmE at least -- as if you scroll further down, you'll see for yourself that this meaning to "under the care of" is clearly pointed up as "US" in Collins Dictionary.
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 2:09
  • 1
    @NourishedGourmet. You are correct, if one scrolls way down there is this statement referencing this for US. My apologies! I'm glad it is there, because in 40 years of speaking AmE, I am completely ignorant that this is used or considered correct. My experience is limited, as I've only lived in four regions of the US. Undoubtedly there is some pocket of the country that uses this form without prohibitive ambiguity. I'll have to read 49.b. again, I understood a meaning reflecting my experience.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 2:24

There's a difference between "in charge of" and being "one of her charges"; they are not interchangeable. The one in charge of is the one who is responsible or in control.

treasurer. noun. someone who is in charge of the money that belongs to an organization.

Note, the treasurer is in charge of the money; the money is not in charge of the treasurer.

In case you're curious about other American understandings of the word charge, they are many, all common. The most common:

Charge it - put it on the credit card.
Smith and his team are in charge of this project - they are responsible for it.
Man charged with theft - a criminal complaint lodged against someone.
That (person or establishment) charges too much - amount demanded for fees/services.
My battery is dead. I need a charge. Energy.
The atmosphere was charged with emotion. Loaded.
Charge! - rush forward.
He was charged from behind. - assailed or football.
positive or negative charge - ion charge
Charge your weapon - load it; or the explosive is in place.

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