I overheard 'culpable' in my daily conversations and realised people are using it instead of 'guilty'. However this was something I've never heard before. I checked some sources and British newspaper uses it like that:

We treat these last as though they are as much a fact of nature as the damage wrought by a warming climate. Increasingly, though, serious jurists and campaigners are beginning to ask whether those who stand in the way of reform, of repairing our climate, should be considered culpable for their actions – and criminally culpable at that. --Independent

How correct is that? Does it resemble more with 'responsible' than 'guilty' ?

Source: lengusa | culpable

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    Please name your sources explicitly and in full, e.g. [Lengusa][1]. Most people only see what's inside the hyperlink tag (currently "my source") and not the URL. Right now, they can't know where you got your information unless they click in. Feb 4, 2021 at 15:48
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    @niamulbengali: I agree entirely. I fixed it though Feb 4, 2021 at 15:51
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    Use culpable as a synonym for blameworthy. It means having some fault, though it is not as strong as guilty.
    – Robusto
    Feb 4, 2021 at 15:54

1 Answer 1


Culpable means

    1. meriting condemnation or blame especially as wrong or harmful :
  • e.g. culpable negligence; The defendant is culpable for her actions.
    1. archaic : GUILTY, CRIMINAL (M-W)

So, to use it as a synonym of "guilty" is archaic, and this is the first meaning with which it was first ever used in English, apparently in the 14th century. It is interesting to know its etymology:

Middle English coupable [which is the current French word for "guilty"], from Anglo-French cupable, culpable, from Latin culpabilis, from culpare - to blame, from culpa - guilt

So there is clearly a connection between culpable and guilty. If you say that something is "culpable", it means that it is liable to blame (as it is suggested by the adjective suffix -able), considered blameworthy by others in accordance with a commonly accepted ethical standard.

Guilt is stronger in that the idea of wrong is more inherent to it ("guilty" does not emphasise the fact that it is "blamable" by others, whereas "culpable" does).

Also, we mostly say to feel guilty, not to feel culpable (as culpable is used from the point of view of those who blame, not from the point of view of the blamed). In fact, "I feel guilty" can have a positive connotation:

I feel so guilty, leaving all this to you. (Collins)

Here "guilty" sounds more like "remorseful", the speaker wishes to assure the other that he/she is not indifferent to the other's difficulty in bearing the burden of "all this". "Culpable" cannot mean "remorseful".

  • Can we say 'to feel culpable' ? Like ' I feel culpable on that matter'. It didn't sound natural at all. Feb 4, 2021 at 16:31
  • Instances of "feel culpable" are extremely rare, Gngram finds few . So I couldn't rule it out completely.
    – fev
    Feb 4, 2021 at 16:33
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    @JohnLawler: I know enough Spanish not to need help with pronunciation :-) While doing research for this question, I have met this term used in political, social, psychological, and even casual contexts. For example: "She is speaking to us from the security of her living room, safe in her culpable life, dilating on the most hopeless of catastrophes." I do agree that it is a legal term which uninitates would not venture to use in a legal context.
    – fev
    Feb 4, 2021 at 18:12
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    Mea culpa is still used to confess one's blame. (Mea vulpa to blame one's fox.) Feb 4, 2021 at 18:21
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    Well, one's vixen, anyway. English still has a few gendered nouns. Feb 4, 2021 at 18:58

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