Contribute, Attribute

Are Attribute and Contribute Interchangeable?

by Owen Fourie

No! They aren’t. This is the short answer to the question in the title. Attribute and contribute are not interchangeable words. They have different meanings.

Attribute is a noun, and it is also a verb. Contribute is a verb and not a noun.

The confusion that some seem to have is in the use of either word as a verb. Simply defining each word and showing the correct usage should clear away the difficulty.

Attribute: distinguishing between noun and verb

The difference between attribute as a noun and attribute as a verb is indicated by the context in writing and by pronunciation in speech.

It is important to note the difference in pronunciation:

  • When you use attribute as a noun, emphasize the first syllable: AT-tri-bute.
  • When you use attribute as a verb, emphasize the second syllable: at-TRIB-ute.

The noun AT-tri-bute

Attribute, as a noun, refers to

  • a quality or a characteristic that identifies someone or something: That teacher’s ability to instill a love of learning in his students is his most commendable attribute.
  • an object or a quality that is associated with an office or function: Attention to detail is an essential attribute of an efficient secretary.

The verb at-TRIB-ute

Attribute, as a verb, is usually followed by to, either immediately or after some intervening words.

It is used to give credit to the source or the cause of a benefit, a production, a condition.

  1. We can attribute the safety of the tenants to the prompt response and courageous action of the firemen.
  2. Some people believe that Christopher Marlowe wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare.
  3. Be careful not to attribute every psychological problem to some misfortune in childhood.
  4. The students attributed their failure to their lack of interest in the subject.

Some words that could be used instead of the verb attribute are ascribe, assign, blame, charge, credit, and impute.

The verb con-TRIB-ute

Pronounce contribute with the emphasis on the second syllable: con-TRIB-ute.

Contribute, as a verb, is often followed by to.

It speaks

  • of giving, supplying, or providing something to meet a need;
  • of being a factor in producing an effect or a result;
  • of enriching a situation or making it worse;
  • of submitting an item for publication.

Here are some examples of these uses of contribute:

  1. Many people contribute to the African Orphaned and Abandoned Children’s Fund.
  2. Various commonsense measures such as drinking pure water, breathing correctly, and doing physical exercise will contribute to improved health.
  3. The correct use of a dictionary and a thesaurus will contribute to an improvement in your writing.
  4. Many drivers who lack sleep contribute to the dangerous conditions that we face on the road.
  5. The famous author contributed two stories to the winter issue of our journal for writers.

Some words that could be used instead of the verb contribute are give, donate, provide, subscribe, and supply.

Now that you know the difference between these verbs, be sure not to attribute where you should contribute or contribute where you should attribute.


If there are other words like attribute and contribute that you find confusing, mention them here. Let’s find a way to resolve the problem. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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