When somebody says to me that he “takes full responsibility for” his actions (or inactions), but then requests that I remove the consequences of those actions, it seems to me he does not actually take full responsibility. Rather, he is merely admitting that he is at fault.

I looked in a few dictionaries and found liable as a synonym for responsible, which sounds like it implies acceptance of the consequences, but I'm interested in other informed opinions. Is the more common usage of responsible closer to liable or at fault?

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    I can see what you are trying to do, but I doubt it will work. Sadly, dictionaries aren't really powerful enough to make people quit behaving like shallow jerks... – T.E.D. Jun 27 '11 at 18:50
  • Voltaire said that "with great power comes great responsibility", and since power entails the potential to act, I guess responsibility and consequences are closely related, yes. – CesarGon Aug 14 '11 at 1:18
  • @CesarGon Wasn't that qoute from Spiderman-Man 1? :) – Phonics The Hedgehog Aug 14 '11 at 2:59
  • People often use the word "responsibility" when they mean "authority". – Steve314 Aug 14 '11 at 6:19
  • @ChaosGamer: I think Voltaire said it first ;-) – CesarGon Aug 14 '11 at 9:39

"Taking responsibility for your actions" is an admission that the subject and nobody else is at fault, that's correct. In particular it's an acceptance that the person concerned expects to be punished in some way. Whether they are punished or not, and whether or not they ask for mercy, are actually separate matters from this point of view.

Note however that this is not the same as taking responsibility for fixing the consequences of your actions. It may be the case that someone other than the responsible person might be better at fixing things up, or the person responsible might no longer be in a position to do anything about it (in a different job, perhaps), or the fact that it was that person's fault may not have come to light until after somebody else fixed the problems.

However, this is only one use of the word responsible, case 4 in wiktionary's definition. It sounds like you were originally assuming something closer to the sense of case 3: roughly "being in charge of" something. In this case nothing has happened yet that can be the person's fault!

  • By consequences I was mainly referring to the expected penalty rather than the obligation to make amends. For instance, if a police officer stops you for speeding, and you say, "I accept responsibility for my actions, but please don't write me a ticket.", then you're not accepting responsibility. – Matthew Leingang Jun 1 '11 at 14:22
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    First of all, never speak to police officers: you have a right to silence which should always be exercised. Secondly, you are correct in that your example seems to be a contradiction, but "taking full responsibility" implies that you are the sole offender to the exclusion of all others. In your example, there are no others, but more often the person oversees many others and it is an attempt to bear the full brunt of all consequences. And then they ask for mercy. – horatio Jun 1 '11 at 14:44
  • @horatio: Thanks for that insight. In the specific situation that inspired this question, the person does admit to being the sole offender and has no subordinates to shield. So his usage here is really just an inflated way of saying "I admit this is my fault." – Matthew Leingang Jun 1 '11 at 14:56
  • @Matthew: ah, that's not what I understood by "remove the consequences", sorry. @horatio: that's a very good point that I'd missed! – user1579 Jun 1 '11 at 15:15
  • I disagree with "and no-one else". IMO, responsibility doesn't simply add up and top out at 100%. A person can be 100% responsible for what he's done, yet others can be partially responsible for the same act because they pushed him into it, or could have prevented it but chose not to, or whatever. Though of course this is ethics, not language. – Steve314 Aug 14 '11 at 6:00

Hell yeah! "responsibility comes with consequences". If you are not ready to face the consequences then don't take the responsibility. In my opinion, it's the ability to face consequences of the actions that makes a person responsible.

If you decide to become college president, being hated by some folks is one of the consequences. You can't just say "I want to be president but I don't want to be hated".

Hopefully my example makes sense.


Politicians (at least in the US) have been making "I take full responsibility" speeches with the apparent expectation that the speech will prevent them from having to suffer any ill consequences for at least a couple of decades now.

Disgusting and shameful, in my opinion, but they've been getting away with it so it may be diluting the meaning of the phrase.


It would seem to me that the person “takes full responsibility for” his actions. As a result he is seeking to mitgate the damages from his actions. If you take action on his behalf then you are assuming responsibility for the consequences of that action, or for your choice not to take action, but not the original action.

A person gets an ill advised tattoo. That person then regrets the decision and asks you to remove it. If you take action to remove the tattoo then you would be responsible for the removal process and any claims you make about your ability to do so.


My estranged wife said to me today that she accepted responsibility for her role in our 'difficulties' but that she felt there was no need on her behalf to either change her behavior pattern or make recompense in any manner.

To me this is an illogical statement - with 'responsibility' comes the acceptance of the consequences thereof (she simultaneously imposes consequences upon our son for his failure to behave appropriately). Failing one's acceptance of the entire 'package' (responsibility + consequences), the term 'responsibility' is platitudinous and vacuous.  

Were it NOT so then the multiple tyrants and genocidal fanatics of history would be granted both immunity from prosecution and reprieve by societies' governing bodies and citizens.  Since this is NOT the case in Western society in general (Nuremberg trials etc.,) then most certainly one should be held to 'deal' with the consequences of responsibility!

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