How to use the word “account” (part 1)

The word “account” can mean a variety of things, depending on the context in which it is used. It also has many idiomatic uses. As a result, if not used with great care, the word can cause ambiguity and make sentences difficult to understand.

Consider the following sentence (it’s an exaggeration, but I have often seen similar):

On account of a payment made on account of the service charges on the Lessor’s account, no further payments on this account are necessary.

The word “account” appears four times, and has three different meanings. This makes the sentence thoroughly confusing for a reader, and so some serious editing is necessary.

First of all let’s look at each phrase in turn:

(1) On account of a payment made (2) on account of the service charges (3) on the Lessor’s account, no further payments (4) on this account are necessary.

(1) The first phrase, On account of means literally “by reason of”. The writer could also use “due to”, “as a result of”, or “because of”.

(2) The second use of on account of is ambiguous because it does not mean “by reason of”. Rather it means “on the service charge account”, i.e. the record of credits related to the service charges.

(3) The phrase on the Lessor’s account contains an error that I frequently see. It is a serious mistake because it changes the meaning of the sentence. What the writer means is “into the Lessor’s (bank) account”.
However, the phrase “on someone’s account” is idiomatic and means “on someone’s behalf”. But this payment was not made on the Lessor’s behalf, rather it was made into his bank account!

Remember that in English payments are made “into or to a bank account” and NOT “on a bank account”.

(4) The last phrase – on this account – has three possible meanings. It contains the same ambiguity as the second use of on account of: Does the writer mean “for this reason”, or is he referring to the record of credits related to the services charges? The third possible meaning is “into a bank account”. Although this phrase is very ambiguous, it does not actually cause a problem here because the sentence ultimately means the same thing whichever way you understand this phrase. But I think you’ll agree that it is not very satisfactory to write something that can be interpreted in three different ways.

Here’s my suggestion for the edited version:

Due to a payment for service charges made into the Lessor’s bank account, no further service charge payments are necessary.

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