I frequently hear the phrase "holding [someone] to account [for]" in American media (for example, this Sam Seder video) and I am under the impression that I have never heard it in British media. Wiktionary defines hold to account as follows:

(transitive) To require a person to explain or to accept responsibility for his or her actions; to blame or punish someone for what has occurred.

Merriam-Webster defines it as "to hold responsible" (which is less helpful than Wiktionary). I could not find the phrase in this online Cambridge dictionary or in my old edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (1989).

So what would be the British English equivalent of "to hold [someone] to account"? Simply, "to hold [someone] responsible"?

  • 1
    Strangely enough, the BrE equivalent is "to hold [someone] to account."
    – Mick
    Dec 6, 2017 at 20:15
  • Interestingly enough, Cambridge lists this phase as "mainly UK"
    – Eddie Kal
    Sep 23, 2020 at 5:37

1 Answer 1


The passive form is more regularly met with than the active in the UK. Other than the following definition from Collins Cobuild, and a lack of the active form being mentioned, I don't think I'll find very satisfying supporting references for this.

be called/held/brought to account phrase

If someone is called, held, or brought to account for something they have done wrong, they are made to explain why they did it, and are often criticized or punished for it.

Ministers should be called to account for their actions. [+ for]

COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

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