Ascribe and Subscribe

by Tina Blue

A common error is the tendency to confuse “ascribe” with  “subscribe.”
The word “ascribe” means to credit or attribute, to refer to a  supposed cause, source, or author. 
This statement, though usually ascribed to  Churchill, was actually penned by a journalist.
The alphabet’s invention is usually ascribed to the Phoenicians.
Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to heaven. (William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well)
Usually, when “ascribe” is mistakenly substituted for “subscribe” it is in a sentences like these, where “subscribe” means
to give assent to something:
WRONG: He ascribes to the theory that the president is above the law.
CORRECT: He subscribes to the theory that the president is above the law.
WRONG:  Most people refuse to ascribe to such conspiracy theories.
CORRECT:  Most people refuse to subscribe to such conspiracy theories.
WRONG: Far too many people ascribe to the lie that Saddam  Hussein was somehow connected to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
CORRECT: Far too many people subscribe to the lie that Saddam Hussein was somehow connected to the September 11 terrorist attacks
The reason that “subscribe” means to agree with or to give assent to in these sentences is that one of the word’s meanings is to sign underneath (“sub-scribe”)–as, for example when one signs one’s name to a petition to indicate agreement with the text of the petition.
If you are not sure about whether to use “ascribe” or “subscribe” in a given sentence, try substituting the word “credit” or
“attribute” for “ascribe.” If the sentence doesn’t make sense with either of those words, then “ascribe” is not the word you want.
He attributes to the theory that the president is above the law.
Most people refuse to attribute to such conspiracy theories.
He credits to the theory that the president is above the law.
Most people refuse to credit to such conspiracy theories.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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