Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Responsible for vs. responsible to

Question:

I recently came across this sentence:

  • We are responsible to ensure delivery of the program.

I thought that it would be better to write responsible for ensuring instead. What are the rules for using for and to with responsible?

Answer:

The sources we consulted (Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners and The BBI Dictionary of English Word Combinations) agree that the following are the accepted structures for the verb phrase be responsible:

  1. Be responsible for something or carrying out an action. For example,
    • We are responsible for ensuring delivery of the program. (an action)
    • We are responsible for the program. (a specific thing)
  2. Be responsible to a person or group of people. For example,
    • We are responsible to our clients (group of people) for the program.

Note, however, that be responsible to ensure is not wrong. Language evolves over time; what was once considered incorrect becomes acceptable. A quick check in Google revealed 82,800 hits for responsible to ensure and a whopping 970,000 hits for responsible for ensuring.