I came across a sentence in a Wikipedia article that went like this (MEMRI stands for Middle East Media Research Institute):

In 2006, Finkelstein accused MEMRI of editing a television interview he gave in Lebanon in order to falsely impute that he was a Holocaust denier.
MEMRI article

This sounded strange to me as I think I've always heard it as imputing 'something' to 'something/someone', meaning it's transitive. I know anyone can edit Wikipedia, so I didn't make much of it. However I did try to search for more instances of an intransitive use of impute. None of the dictionaries I've seen list "impute" as intransitive, but it is used in this way (relevant parts have been made bold by me.

If a tweet advises readers not to leave their wallets lying around if John Smith's in the room, the meaning on which Mr Smith's lawyers will fight the case is that the words impute that he's a thief.
Defamation law in the online age: for beginners - Sydney Morning Herald article

A statutory audit results in the auditor giving either an unqualified audit opinion so that the reader can impute that the entitity's financial statements reflect a 'true and fair view', or on the contrary an audit opinion that indicates...
Health and Safety, Environment and Quality Audits: A risk-based approach, 2014

I will not single out any of the many individuals who have been helpful, and, most importantly, I do not mean to impute that the contents of this work have passed their final muster.
Stone Tools: Theoretical Insights Into Human Prehistory, 1996

It stated that a defendant will have a ‘non-delegable’ duty of care when: ... There is a pre-existing relationship between the claimant and the defendant which places the claimant in the care or custody of the defendant and from which it is reasonable to impute that the defendant owes the claimant a ‘positive duty’ to protect him or her from harm;
Boys & Maugham Solicitors website, a UK a law firm

The Fifth District court now has the latitude to impute whether the legislators believed they were taking “the only course of action which appeared open” in adopting a piece of legislation, or it can impute that the legislators had no other options open to them.
Analysis of a Florida Supreme Court decision in 2017

Plaintiff first contends that the statements in the article are defamatory per se because they impute that the Plaintiff has committed a crime, namely the illegal cyberattack.

Here, Dziagwa's alleged statement did not fairly impute that the plaintiff had committed a car theft or any other indictable criminal offense.
Illinois Appellate Court decision, 1997

I'm just wondering if this use is acceptable or standard.

  • Am I right in thinking that some of the quotations overlap 'impute' with 'imply' ? My understanding of 'impute' is a matter of transferring attribute.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 9, 2019 at 20:47
  • 1
    @NigelJ I was thinking that maybe some may mix it with imply and impugn. Maybe these words play some part.
    – Zebrafish
    Feb 9, 2019 at 20:53

2 Answers 2


The verb impute can be complemented by a clause:

Are you imputing that the company was negligent?

and by a noun phrase:

Are you imputing negligence on the company's part?

and by prepositional phrase + clause:

Are you imputing to him that he intended to defraud the bank by exaggerating the worth of his collateral?

An intention to defraud the bank has been imputed to him.

That he intended to defraud the bank has been imputed to him.

That he intended to defraud the bank has been imputed.

Are you imputing to them that they were motivated by greed?

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the first example impute is being used intransitively, right?
    – Zebrafish
    Feb 9, 2019 at 20:56
  • In old-school terms, right, it is not transitive in the sense that it has no direct object.
    – TimR
    Feb 9, 2019 at 21:01
  • 2
    It has a direct object and it is transitive. There is no intransitive use of impute, *unless you impute. The direct object of impute in the first example is the complement that-clause that the company was negligent. Complement clauses act as noun phrases and can be subjects or direct objects. The odd part about this construction is that impute normally takes an indirect object in a to-phrase, as well as a direct object. Usually one imputes something to someone, but not here. Feb 9, 2019 at 22:07
  • @John Lawler: That is not the "old-school" understanding (what BillJ calls "mickey mouse grammar") of direct object, as in "He painted the fence".
    – TimR
    Feb 9, 2019 at 22:15
  • @JohnLawler This is where I'm confused, and I may have to ask another question about it. Definitions of "impute" give "attribute" and "ascribe" as synonyms. In "I impute that the company was negligent" I don't see "attribute" or "ascribe" being able to replace "impute", or at least if it can, I wouldn't understand it. The issue I'm having is that these words usually link a causative factor to a result. I'm not sure whether "impute" works differently from these other two words. I guess it does, I don't think I could say "I attribute/ascribe that the company was negligent"
    – Zebrafish
    Feb 9, 2019 at 22:37

As far as I can tell most instances of impute used in this way come from subject matter dealing with law, and seem to have been more common in earlier times. However this usage seems to have carried on through into legal and legislative (parliamentary etc.) contexts and settings up to this day. Also, it seems that some people have adopted this type of use in writing or speaking about general topics, as shown in the stone tools book citation in my question, but there are also other examples I found, such as in Figures of Simplicity: Sensation and Thinking in Kleist and Melville, 2010, a book that analyzes literature from various authors.

I have checked the 1913 Webster's Dictionary and it only lists "impute" as a transitive verb. This is also the case in the 1828 edition of Webster's. I've also checked a law dictionary but its examples show a use which is consistent with all dictionaries, eg.:

The mother's negligence can be imputed to the child in any claim on behalf of the child against the truck driver.
The People's Law Dictionary

Based on what I've seen, this intransitive usage is generally nonstandard, and when seen or heard it's likely said in a legal or parliamentary setting or context. Also, when impute is used in this way it seems to mean something like the intransitive claim or charge. Eg.:

The Treasurer's legal team argues the Fairfax articles, published last May, impute that he is corrupt and accepted bribes,...
Financial Times article

However there are plenty of examples of both individuals, media outlets and writers using it in this way in general terms, though I can't tell how common this is as a proportion of all uses of the word.

Also, I'm not sure if this is of any value, but a Google NGram search gave the following result.

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