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In conversation, I jokingly said:

О, думаю, тебе и так уже известно, но если во время рыбалки ты допустишь ошибку и погибнешь, то мы за это не ответим.

The use of the future perfective "ответим" sprang to mind right there and then, given the future perfective "допустишь" and "погибнешь" that I used in the preceding clause. But it seems I should have used the present imperfective "отвечаем" here. What is the grammatical rationale for this?

О, думаю, тебе и так уже известно, но если во время рыбалки ты допустишь ошибку и погибнешь, то мы за это не отвечаем.

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  • grammatical probably none, semantic may be, i could suggest that present tense is more apposite since it's about general state of affairs valid for all times, whether this is accurate or not present tense is simply idiomatic here... it's still possible to say не будем нести ответственность (which is also imperfective) but it's formal and unnecessarily strict for casual conversation Jan 28 '19 at 18:34
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"Не ответим" is perfective, and the meaning is "Won't be held responsible". "Не отвечаем" is imperfective, and the meaning is, generally, "Won't be seen as being responsible".

The difference, as you see, is nuanced. Perfective "не ответим" may imply a number of reason why someone can avoid the responsibility (including, but not limited to bribing the authorities or insanity plea). On the other hand, imperfective "не отвечаем" (or "не будем отвечать") means that the issue of responsibility shouldn't even be raised.

Negative perfective "Не ответим" ("не ответит") is generally never used in this context, unless somehow forced by the flow of speech (ex: "Он за это ответит!" - "Нет, не ответит.")

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    I would even say that "не ответим" is a switch to formal context: we won't be fined or sentenced. That's why it sounds a bit out of style.
    – AlexVB
    Jan 29 '19 at 7:52
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But it seems I should have used the present imperfective "отвечаем" here. What is the grammatical rationale for this?

This is an excellent question.

Yes, you should have used ''отвечаем,'' but the following sentence sounds perfectly okay: ''О, думаю, тебе и так уже известно, но если во время рыбалки ты допустишь ошибку и погибнешь, то мы за это не понесем ответственность.''

As you see, here I used the perfective ''понесем ответственность''. With this perfective, this sentence sounds absolutely natural. With ''не несем ответственность'' it would sound fine, too. But with ''не ответим'' it sounds weird!

So why does ''не ответим'' sound bad, while ''не понесем ответственность'' sounds fine despite that both forms are perfective?

The reason is connected with a connotation of the perfective expression ''ответить за что-либо'': Historically, this expression (in the perfective form) was a colloquial expression used by semi-criminals and criminals in the 1990s as a threat, e.g., ''за базар ответишь'' (''you will be held responsible for you words,'' ''you will pay for your words''). ''Отвечать за что-либо'' does not have a criminal connotation and simply means ''to be responsible for something.'' ''Понести ответственность за что-либо'' does not have a criminal connotation either, although is basically equivalent to ''ответить за что-либо'' in terms of the essence of the meaning - ''someone has been held responsible for something.''

Nowadays the expression ''ответить за что-либо'' is often used by general public, too, but still has some criminal flavour. For example, the expression ''ты ответишь за это'' is perceived as a threat or a promise to retaliate, i.e., something like ''I will make you pay for that.''

Moreover, the negation of this phrase, i.e, ''я за это не отвечу,'' is practically not used, although is not ungrammatical or wrong in any way. If you google the exact phrase "я за это не отвечу," you will get only a few results, but all these results obviously come from native speakers. The meaning is rather, ''I will get away with that,'' or, ''You will be unable to make me pay for that.'' The criminal flavour is still there.

In short, the usage and flavour of ''ответить за что-либо'' (in the perfective form) do not fit your situation.

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