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I often read in scientific papers a sentence of the form "X lies on the basis of Y." or "X lies at the basis of Y." to indicate that Y is caused by X in some fundamental way. Are both forms valid and common? (Maybe both are poor English?)

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Take care that know whether "basis" is used as a term of art within some specific scientific field. If it is, then a simple linguistic analysis of its use isn't adequate. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basis_(linear_algebra) for example. Since you didn't give much context (what field of science? what is X and what is Y?) it's hard to say what is correct. The Google N-Gram viewer doesn't differentiate contexts. – Canis Lupus Mar 24 '13 at 18:22
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The phrase "X lies at the basis of Y", while arguably clumsy, is used reasonably often in English. On the other hand, I do not believe that "X lies on the basis of Y" is something a native English speaker would say. Consider the following Google Ngram :

Ngram for at/on the basis of

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Thanks for showing the Ngram tool. That is really convincing. – Toon Verstraelen Feb 3 '12 at 9:33

Both are clumsy. Simply "X is the basis of Y" would be better, so for example "The rule of law is the basis of our freedom".

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Thanks for providing a decent alternative. – Toon Verstraelen Feb 3 '12 at 9:34

The meaning is different if you say X is the basis of something.

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