Account For – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Can you "account for" everything you brought with you to the office today? Can you account for the money you took from the petty cash yesterday at work? This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


To "account for" something means that you are aware of it and can confirm that you verify it exists. It's a common saying used in bookkeeping and accounting, and you probably hear it all the time in finance talk.

The saying can mean that you must provide an explanation or verification for something or someone, or you must bear the accountability for something. It can refer to money, assets, people, or anything important that someone is keeping track of in their life.

To "account for" something can also mean that you are the responsible party to a task and must "account for" the success or failure of the project. It can also mean that you "account for" handing responsibility or leadership to someone else.

To "account for" something can also mean to provide someone else with satisfactory record-keeping for finances or tasks, mostly relating to money.

The phrase can have a lighthearted or assertive context. For instance, you could account for the chocolate chips you dropped on the floor or account for millions of dollars spent in a marketing budget.

Example Usage

"We can account for Mr. Daniels's time at the bar that evening. He has an alibi, and there is no chance he is responsible for the crime."

"I can account for all the client payments going back at least five years. There's no chance the IRS will find anything wrong with the books."

"I can account for all the kids we brought with us. Get them onto the bus, and let's head back to the school."

"Can you account for all the payments moving through the account? There is a rumor that someone has been stealing from the petty cash, and I want to know who it is."

"Can you account for all the tools we brought to the job site? If anything is missing, I'm taking the replacement cost out of your paycheck."

"After completing your request, we can confidently say we can account for everything on your list, and we have it all in stock."

"We can account for everything we took with us. There is no chance we left anything behind at the campsite."


The origin of the expression “account for” comes from somewhere in the 1700s. An “account” is a set of books relating to a person or company’s finances. Language experts are unsure of the exact origin of the expression “account for” and when it first appeared in English. However, many experts believe it comes from technical wiring around the Industrial Revolution.

Companies we’re growing, and the unfolding economic expansion led to the introduction of many business terms relating to finances and accounting. Other business-speak, such as “with regard to” and others, also emerged around the same time.

To “account for” something means to make an entry in the book of accounts, and it retains the meaning of counting something in modern use.

Phrases Similar to Account For

  • Take note of.
  • Measure up.

Phrases Opposite to Account For

  • Unknown.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Account for.

Ways People May Say Account For Incorrectly

There are several ways you can use this expression, but all refer to taking into account people, items, or tasks. Using the phrase in reference to inaccurate record keeping is incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Account For

You can use the phrase “account for” when referencing an accounting of people, tasks, or items. The term suits professional and social use, but it’s more common in professional communications in the workplace.

You could use it to describe how you “account for” the petty cash and everything balances. Or you could use it to say you account for all the kids at the waterpark when it's time to go home.

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