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Common errors > blame  verb, transitive

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Incorrect or non-standard usage, overuse etc.

My boss always blamed me because I was late

The problem

This word is often used wrongly.
There is general confusion with the following group of words:

blame, scold, tell off, have a go at, punish

(1) blame
You use this word when something bad has happened and you want to say that a particular person is responsible.
We usually use the form: blame (a person) for (something that has happened):

The lorry driver, who was speeding, was blamed for the accident.
I blame the parents for the bad behaviour of their children.
Many people blame the government for the pollution problem.

Note You can also use the form: somebody or something is to blame for something:

I think unimaginative teaching is to blame for discipline problems in schools.

(2) scold and tell off
These are used when an adult wants to tell a younger person they have behaved badly or done something wrong:

He told his son off (scolded his son) for playing with matches.
The policeman told them off for crossing the road when the light was red.

Scold is old-fashioned and rarely used by native speakers.
It is over-used in Hong Kong.
Tell off is much more up-to-date and natural-sounding.

(3) have a go at (someone)
This is used when adults tell each other strongly that they think they have done something wrong.
The boss had a go at me for being late again.
Dave was so drunk he didn't know what he was doing. His brother really had a go at him the next day.

It is used in informal spoken English. It would not be used in a formal piece of writing.

(4) have a word with (someone)
This is also used in a situation when you want to criticize someone for something they have done wrong. It is less aggressive-sounding than have a go at someone.

Doris has been late four times this week. I think someone ought to have a word with her.

(5) punish
The meaning of this word is rather different. It is used when someone does something wrong and is made to suffer, usually by someone in authority.

The teacher punished the class by making them stay in at lunch time.
Violent criminals must be severely punished.
(teacher to school children) Anyone caught cheating in the test will be punished.

Note the noun, punishment, is part of the same word-family.
Make the punishment fit the crime. (Common saying)
His punishment was three years in prison.

Standard English

My boss had a go at me because I was late.


Online dictionary links are available for the following words:

Head word Part of speech Mac Cam Dic
Wik Save
blame verb MacCantabDictWiktAdd
have a go at somebody phrase MacDictWiktAdd
scold verb MacCantabDictWiktAdd
punish verb MacCantabDictWiktAdd

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