Does the word 'contribute' have a positive implication? Do I have to say , "We aspire to be a community that will contribute positively within and beyond this institution" or just say, " "We aspire to be a community that will contribute within and beyond this institution"?

closed as unclear what you're asking by NVZ, Cascabel, vickyace, Skooba, jimm101 Mar 20 '17 at 15:09

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  • Obviously "contribute" can have negative implications, as attested by thousands of written instances of contributed to his downfall. But in your context that's clearly not the case, so including "potentially optional" positively is as much a matter of emphasis as an adjectival usage. – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '17 at 18:41
  • Just type "contributes to" into google and see what it autocompletes. You can get things like global warming, high blood pressure, heart disease, high crime rates, mental illness, ... there are nearly endless count-examples. – jimm101 Mar 20 '17 at 15:09

Contribute just means putting something into something else. Usually a cause or condition.

The air contributed to his breathing problems.

Drugs contribute to our crime problems.

Your contribution to the charity is greatly appreciated.

The contribution can be anything.


When used in the sense in which you are using it, contribute does arguably have a slight positive connotation (see below)---but I don't think that's the main issue here. The main problem is that when you simply omit positively, what remains is possibly not an idiomatic sentence.

Look at the relevant definition of contribute in the Oxford English Dictionary (let's call it 'OED-5'):

5. fig. To give or furnish along with others towards bringing about a result; to lend (effective agency or assistance) to a common result or purpose.

a. trans. [here they just give examples]

b. More usually intr. to contribute to (also †for) or to do (anything): to do a part in bringing (it) about; to have a part or share in producing.

Two points to notice:

First, effective agency and assistance arguably have a slight positive connotation (as in she's an effective leader and can I be of assistance?). Thus, arguably, the OED-5 sense of contribute does as well. (See also the 'pharmacologist' example below.) Context can of course override this connotation, as in the example provided by FumbleFingers in his or her comment (contribute to his downfall).

Second, according to the OED, when contribute is used intransitively in its OED-5 sense, it demands a complement to or for (something or doing something). Indeed, if you search for "contribute within" on google books (like this) and look only at examples i. that are written by native speakers and ii. in which the relevant sense is the intransitive OED-5, you'll see that contribute normally appears with a complement to/toward/for (something). Example: The local release of sensory neuropeptides can contribute within the nose to change in vascular tone.

Rarely, we do find instances of OED-5 intransitive usage without a complement to/toward/for. Example: The foregoing has summarised the roles in which the clinical pharmacologist may contribute within the industry as a whole. This is rare and contrary to what the OED says. On the other hand, this example strengthens the case that contribute does have a positive connotation (at least among those who are comfortable using contribute in the intransitive OED-5 sense without a to/towards/for complement).

Now do a search for "contribute positively within" (like so), and you'll find lots of examples of it appearing in its intransitive OED-5 sense and with no complement to/toward/for.

A reasonable conclusion is that contribute positively is in fact an idiom, though not recorded in dictionaries.

Thus, if you want to use contribute i. in the intransitive OED-5 sense; ii. without positively; and iii. in a way that is consistent with dictionary definitions, you'd need to add a complement to/toward/for. If you want to emphasize the positivity of the contribution, you can do that in the complement. A possible example: We aspire to be a community that will contribute to fostering personal growth within and beyond this institution.

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