I’ve heard conscience used as a verb, in the phrase can’t conscience. For example,

I can’t conscience taking credit for what I didn’t do.

Is this use of conscience correct? From a Google search it appears this phrase is actively used, but I can’t find it in the OED or other dictionaries.


I believe you are encountering misuse of the word conscience by people who have an imperfect memory of a phrase such as “I can’t countenance” or “I can’t condone”.

coun·te·nance /ˈkountn-əns/ Verb: Admit as acceptable or possible. (Google)

con·done /kənˈdōn/ Verb: Accept and allow (behavior that is considered morally wrong or offensive) to continue. Approve or sanction (something), esp. with reluctance. (Google)


Conscience is not a verb. It is a noun; ergo it should be treated as such. That usage of conscience is incorrect.


As others have said, conscience cannot legitimately be used as a verb. They probably meant to say (or are deliberately shortening):

I can’t in good conscience take credit for what I didn’t do.

  • Did you mean it can't be used as a verb? – Barrie England Nov 24 '11 at 7:59
  • @BarrieEngland: At least that's what I thought -- not a verb. – Kris Dec 2 '11 at 11:09
  • Err yeah - verb. Oops. – Lynn Dec 2 '11 at 18:12
  • English has a grammatical process called zero-derivation that enables the conversion of a noun to a verb with no overt morphology. This allows English speakers to use any noun as a verb if they so wish. So while it may be that this particular case is an error (e.g. if the speaker intended another word and produced this one by mistake), English speakers are legitimately able to do this if they wish. The meaning is certainly clear. – Gaston Ümlaut Sep 12 '12 at 22:35
  • @GastonÜmlaut: That reminds me of this comic: unmemorabletitle.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/… – Steven Jan 23 '13 at 18:46

I think the specific spoken phrase "can't conscience" is used widely enough by native English speakers that you have to consider it at least an acceptable spoken idiom. I certainly wouldn't use it in formal writing.


As a linguist I would say the claim of correctness is applicable if and only if it is derived from common usage. The native speakers of a language themselves decide what is correct or incorrect via their usage of the language. It is for this reason that a language can be said to be “alive.”

There exist certain grammatical rules derived from Latin which were unsuccessfully imported into the English language in the mid-1800’s. These rules, including “no split infinitives,” and “no ending a sentence with a preposition” have never taken hold in English, and would serve only to reduce the viability and flexibility of the English language in its efforts to express a universe of thought. English stylists, and grammarians are largely disenfranchising such rules upon consideration that they have no bearing in any real-world dialect of English.

Any time you use an existing English word modified by legitimate grammatical practices, and native speakers of English understand what you are saying, then you have legitimately conveyed an idea to another person by means of the English language, and therefore have used the English language appropriately.

The word conscience is in regular usage as a verb, along with all of its derived forms, and hence ought to be considered a legitimate word in the modern English language. Consider also the undisputably legitimate form unconscionable. Conscionable means “able to be conscienced.” How can it therefore be legitimate, lest its definition also be legitimate?

  • OEtymD derives conscionable not from a verb conscience but from conscioned "having a conscience". Where are you getting your facts? – MetaEd Oct 8 '12 at 15:00
  • What @MetaEd said. According to Google, the only current instance of "able to be conscienced" is in fact this answer. Which I therefore think is wrong. – FumbleFingers Jan 23 '13 at 19:23

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