If you drive into someone's fence, you’ll probably be held liable — legally responsible — for fixing it. Liable can also mean “likely,” usually with something unpleasant: "If you don't brush your teeth, they're liable to fall out."

When liable refers to legal responsibility, it's used with "for": "You're liable for the court costs" (meaning you have to pay them). When liable means "likely," it's with "to": "If you build your house on that cliff, it's liable to fall into the river," or "That part of town is liable to mudslides." Don't confuse liable with libel, which is a legal term for slander, or saying something false and damaging about someone.

Definitions of liable

adj subject to legal action

liable to criminal charges”
(of persons) not exempt from an obligation or liability

adj held legally responsible

“men between the ages of 18 and 35 were liable for military service”
worthy of or requiring responsibility or trust; or held accountable

adj (often followed by 'to') likely to be affected with

liable to diabetes”
nonimmune, nonresistant, unresistant
(often followed by `of' or `to') yielding readily to or capable of

adj at risk of or subject to experiencing something usually unpleasant

“she is liable to forget”
has a good chance of being the case or of coming about

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.