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Ascribe vs. Attribute: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on February 5, 2024
Ascribe means to attribute something to a cause or source; attribute refers to a quality, feature, or characteristic of something.

Key Differences

To ascribe is to assign a cause, origin, or source to something, often used in contexts where responsibility or authorship is being determined. To attribute, however, is to regard something as being caused by or to recognize specific features, qualities, or characteristics in someone or something. While both verbs deal with the notion of assigning or linking, ascribe often carries the connotation of assigning non-physical, abstract qualities, such as blame, origins, or credit.
Ascribe is typically used when one is pointing out where something comes from or the reason it exists. For instance, one might ascribe the success of a project to the hard work of the team. Attribute, on the other hand, tends to focus on identifying inherent qualities or features of an object or person, such as attributing intelligence and wit to a well-known author.
The usage of ascribe and attribute also differs in the nature of the relationship they establish. Ascribing tends to suggest a more indirect or abstract connection, such as ascribing meaning to a symbol. Attributing, in contrast, often implies a direct or inherent connection, such as attributing redness to a rose, where the quality of redness is a direct observation of the rose's characteristics.
In writing and speech, choosing between ascribe and attribute can subtly change the emphasis of a statement. Using ascribe might suggest a degree of inference or judgment about the origin or cause, whereas attribute might be used to state or describe observed or perceived qualities more directly.
Both ascribe and attribute play significant roles in communication, helping to clarify relationships between causes and effects, origins and outcomes, and characteristics and subjects. Despite their differences, both terms facilitate the expression of connections and relationships in various contexts of language use.

Comparison Chart


Assign a cause or source
Recognize a quality or feature

Usage Context

Often used for abstract qualities
Used for inherent or observed qualities

Nature of Connection

Indirect, abstract relationship
Direct, inherent relationship

Example Context

Ascribing success to hard work
Attributing redness to a rose


Suggests inference or judgment
States or describes qualities directly

Ascribe and Attribute Definitions


To attribute authorship or origin.
Historians ascribe the first use of the term to a 20th-century philosopher.


To assign a work or characteristic to a specific source or author.
This painting is attributed to the school of Rembrandt.


To credit something to a particular cause.
Critics ascribe the painting's mystery to the artist's unique technique.


A quality or feature regarded as a characteristic of someone or something.
Integrity is an attribute I admire in my mentor.


To connect a work or phenomenon with a particular period or person.
Scholars ascribe these ancient artifacts to the early Bronze Age.


To consider something as being caused by.
She attributes her success to hard work and perseverance.


To assign responsibility or blame.
They ascribe the failure of the project to lack of funding.


To regard a specific characteristic as belonging to.
Critics attribute the success of the novel to its vivid imagery.


To regard a quality or feature as belonging to someone.
Fans ascribe great importance to the songwriter's early works.


To identify a symbol, value, or quality as specific to an entity.
The symbol's power is attributed to its ancient origins.


To regard as arising from a specified cause or source
"Other people ascribe his exclusion from the canon to an unsubtle form of racism" (Daniel Pinchbeck).


To regard as arising from a particular cause or source; ascribe
Attributed their failure to a lack of preparation.


To regard as belonging to or produced by a specified agent, place, or time
Ascribed the poem to Shakespeare.


To regard (a work, for example) as belonging to or produced by a specified agent, place, or time
Attributed the painting to Titian.
Attributed the vase to 18th-century Japan.


Is "ascribe" a verb?

Yes, "ascribe" is a transitive verb.

What is the difference between "ascribe" and "describe"?

"Ascribe" involves attributing qualities or origins, while "describe" involves giving a detailed account or explanation of something.

What does "ascribe" mean?

"Ascribe" means to attribute something to a particular cause, source, or origin.

How is "ascribe" used in a sentence?

"They ascribed the painting's success to the artist's unique technique."

Can "ascribe" be used in any context?

It's often used in formal or literary contexts, especially when discussing the origins of beliefs, characteristics, or works.

Can "ascribe" have a negative connotation?

It can, especially if it's used to attribute negative qualities or outcomes to someone or something.

What's the noun form of "ascribe"?

The noun form is "ascription."

Can you "ascribe" emotions to someone?

Yes, you can ascribe emotions or intentions to someone, implying they are perceived to have them due to certain actions or circumstances.

Can "attribute" describe physical and non-physical characteristics?

Yes, as a noun, it can describe both tangible and intangible qualities.

What makes "attribute" unique in usage compared to "ascribe"?

"Attribute" is versatile, used both as a noun and a verb across various contexts, while "ascribe" is mainly used as a verb in more formal or specific contexts to imply causation or origin.

Are there synonyms for "ascribe"?

Yes, synonyms include "attribute," "assign," and "credit."

What is the difference between "attribute" as a noun and verb?

As a noun, it refers to a characteristic; as a verb, it means to assign a cause or source.

How does "attribute" fit in technical contexts?

In technology, "attribute" often refers to properties or characteristics of objects, elements, or data.

How do you use "ascribe" in academic writing?

In academic writing, "ascribe" is used to link ideas, theories, or data to specific sources or authors.

Are there synonyms for "attribute" as a verb?

Yes, synonyms include "ascribe," "assign," and "credit."

Can "attribute" have a negative implication?

Yes, especially when used as a verb, it can attribute negative outcomes or traits to someone or something.

What does "attribute" mean?

"Attribute" can serve as a noun meaning a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone or something, or as a verb meaning to regard something as being caused by.

How is "attribute" used in a sentence as a verb?

"She attributed her success to hard work."

Is "attribute" used in specific fields?

Yes, it's widely used in psychology, business, technology, and art, among others.

How is "attribute" used in a sentence as a noun?

"Patience is an attribute I greatly admire."
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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