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Ascribe vs Attribute vs Impute vs Assign vs Refer vs Credit vs Accredit vs Charge

Ascribe, Attribute, Impute, Assign, Refer, Credit, Accredit and Charge all mean to lay something (creditable, discreditable, or neutral) to the account of a person or thing. The first four of these words are often used interchangeably without marked loss in precision, but they have distinctions in discriminating use.

One ascribes to a person or thing something which is not outwardly apparent but which may be inferred or conjectured (as a motive, a feeling, an opinion, or a value).

  • whatever else might be in her head, it was . . . neither love, nor romance, nor any of the emotions usually ascribed to the young

Also, one ascribes something whose origin is unknown or disputed to its conjectured source, cause, or author.

  • a poem formerly ascribed to Chaucer
  • that conceit always ascribed to a lack of intelligence

One attributes to a person or thing something (as a quality, a character, or a value) believed, usually on good grounds, to belong to it or to be appropriate to it, or something for which that person or thing is judged to be responsible or accountable.

  • if he disclaimed the virtues attributed to him he should only accentuate his embarrassment
  • a combination . . . might have attributed to it . . . the character of a monopoly merely by virtue of its size
    Justice Holmes
  • the French had then given up their conventional trick of attributing Eleanor's acts to her want of morals
    —Henry Adams

One imputes when one so definitely ascribes something to a person or, less often, a thing that the ascription is impressed on that person or thing. For this reason impute commonly but not invariably implies accusation and, often, its resulting stigma.

  • how dare you, sir, impute such monstrous intentions to me?

One assigns something to a person or thing when one deliberately and often as a result of critical study places it in a class (as of values, things, or occurrences) .

  • more than one rejoinder declared that the importance I here assigned to criticism was excessive
    A mold
  • the temple of Baal Lebanon, which is assigned to the eleventh century B.C.

Also, one assigns a reason for something when one definitely fixes or states the ground, excuse, or motive for that thing.

  • it is impossible to assign any reason for his failure

Sometimes assign suggests allegation, but this connotation is usually derived from the context.

  • whatever reason of discontent the farmers may assign, the true cause is this

One refers a thing or rarely a person to the class to which it belongs or to its origin when, after tracing it back, one assigns it to its proper category or to its ultimate cause or source.

  • the aurora borealis is commonly referred to the class of electric phenomena
  • I am convinced that at least one half of their bad manners may be referred to their education

One credits someone with something or something to someone when one ascribes the thing to some person or thing as its author, its agent, its source, or its explanation.

  • people credited Moriarty's queerness of manner and moody ways to the solitude
  • I am sure both parties credited them with too much idealism and too little plain horse sense
    Rose Macaulay

Sometimes credit suggests unwarranted belief.

  • Aunty Rosa had credited him in the past with petty cunning and stratagem that had never entered into his head

One accredits a person (rarely, a thing) with something (as a statement, an accomplishment, or a quality) or accredits something to a person when one accepts him as author, agent, or possessor.

  • when a person stimulates us . . . we accredit him with an attractive personality
  • savings accumulated in good times . . . must doubtless be accredited with some expectation of future . . . dividends
  • several Bangor houses have been accredited to Bulfinch
    Amer. Guide Series: Me.

Like credit, accredit is typically used of favorable attributions. One charges something on or upon a person or thing when one fixes the responsibility for a fault, crime, or evil on him or it.

  • crimes as base as any charged on me?
  • the tyrannies . . . charged upon the New England oligarchy