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I sometimes see cases where off is followed by of, and it sounds awkward to me. For example, I would prefer

This story is based on a true story.

to

This story is based off of a true story.

What do native speakers think/prefer? Should I avoid that kind of usage?

13 Answers 13

41

The former is certainly preferable in UK English, formal or otherwise, whereas the latter is a style usually heard in conversational American English.

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  • 1
    I’m pretty sure there are some UK dialects in which “off of” is common in conversational use. But agreed that the informality of it is probably more strongly marked in BrE than AmE.
    – PLL
    Mar 4, 2011 at 16:16
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    I don't think it's even a dialectical affectation in the UK; if it's used here it's usually done for the purposes of irony (or ignorance at best). Mar 4, 2011 at 20:17
  • It is used in the UK -- I have a feeling it's dialectal too, though I've not seen an actual study. Mar 4, 2011 at 21:36
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    It's used colloquially in the UK only recently (within last 5-8 years?). Scott Mills uses it constantly (digitalspy.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=182860) when saying where people are from, but it seems as if he's making fun of the phrase because he emphasizes and overuses it. It certainly didn't sound natural to the British ear at one time. I first heard Stephen Wright (US comic, not UK DJ) use it saying he washed mud off of mud, decades ago, it sounded really strange, but it seems to be creeping in to popularity nowadays. Mar 4, 2011 at 22:16
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    @Lee: I disagree strongly. I heard "off of" often in my youth (North London, 1960's). Not "based off of" though.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 1, 2011 at 10:38
23

I checked in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and there are only 7 instances when based off of is used, limited to spoken style. On the other hand, based on occurs with very high frequency in all sorts of discourse, particularly academic but also spoken.

11

Some may wonder, how can these be synonymous, if "off" and "on" have the opposite meaning?

The key word in the Wiktionary link is nonstandard, which can be loosely translated as: yes, you'll hear it, but yes, there's a better way to say it.

Also, some prepositions in such phrases are incidental, and can fluctuate. You might say:

This movie was based on a true story.

This movie was based upon a true story.

This movie was based off of a true story.

All would have the same meaning, although the third has an amateurish ring to it.

3
  • Sorry but what is the meaning of 'amateurish ring'?
    – Johnny Lim
    Mar 21, 2012 at 5:04
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    "Ring" refers to how it sounds. Based off of sounds rather amateur - i.e. informal, nonstandard, conversational, careless - not quite uneducated or illiterate, but a step toward that direction. In the U.S., it's not uncommon to hear it. If you tried to correct someone on it, they'd probably agree that based on was more proper, but they'd also likely regard you as nitpicky for pointing it out.
    – J.R.
    Mar 21, 2012 at 10:01
  • The Wiktionary definition no longer labels the usage "nonstandard" anymore, as of today.
    – tvk
    Dec 20, 2016 at 20:54
11

You can’t base anything off of anything. Something is always based on something else.

http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/based.html

Entire contents of that link:

"You can build a structure around a center, but bases go on the bottom of things, so you can’t base something around something else. Similarly, you can build something off of a starting point, but you can’t base anything off of anything. Something is always based on something else."

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    This kind of rationalization doesn't actually tell us what people usually use.
    – herisson
    Feb 25, 2017 at 5:45
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    "You can’t base anything off of anything." Ships can be based off of a particular region of coast. But that's a different meaning. Ships certainly aren't based on the coast. Well, with great creativity, you could come up with a story about a ship that was based on a coast. I'm not feeling that creative.
    – Mars
    Nov 28, 2017 at 2:09
8

It's very much a recent, emerging usage... enter image description here ...but looking at a selection of the written instances there, I see no obvious reason to assume the writers are all linguistically incompetent. The same pattern arises with the even more common based out of, covered by this earlier question. In neither case does it seem irrefutable to me that such usage is either grammatically or logically invalid.

It just looks "odd" to older people because statistically speaking they won't have heard these constructions so often as what they consider the "correct" versions, and when they do hear it, it'll often be from younger people who they assume are grammatically ignorant anyway.

I would advise OP that if he wants to avoid anyone thinking he's illiterate, he should avoid such constructions. But not everyone will think he's illiterate if he does decide to use them.

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    (to "Community Editor") I stand by my words as written. I see no reason to enclose "statistically speaking" in commas, I'm happy with the construction "not so often as what you think is correct", and you are one of those people who I think are living in some grammatical time-warp! Mar 21, 2012 at 3:55
  • 1
    But compared to based on and based upon, based off of and based out of have near-zero usage. books.google.com/ngrams/… Apr 21, 2015 at 19:37
  • Thank you for your helpful answer! The sentence "In neither case does it seem irrefutable to me that such usage is either grammatically or logically invalid" has a lot of negatives... and is hard for me to understand.
    – tvk
    Dec 20, 2016 at 20:58
7

Based on is the regular combination according to convention. Based off of is rather informal but also frequent. In academic papers I'd stick to based on.

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+300

While it is true that based on is still the universally preferred version of the expression, especially in formal writing, based off (of) seems to gain more and more popularity. So much so, that Merriam-Webster has a whole article about it that provides some answers.

While it's more common to say that something is "based on" something else—as in "The movie is based on a book"—people increasingly say "based off" or "based off of": "The movie is based off (of) a book." "Based off" isn't wrong, but it's relatively new, and is likely to sound wrong to some people.

The expression based off of is indeed new, and its use has been increasing in both American and British English, but the Americans seem to adopt it with less restraint:

enter image description here

M-W records the use of the expression in recorded speech since 1979 and it appeared in edited text soon after:

We don’t know why “based off” (often extended to “based off of”) is moving into territory “based on” has occupied since the mid-18th century, but we do know that its use is relatively new. Preliminary research shows it popping up in recorded speech as far back as 1979:

[Coach Jack] Pardee admitted that some of the substituting so far has been based "on guesswork, calculated guesswork," because no one on his staff was certain how the youngsters would hold up under pressure. "How can you tell how a Neal Olkewicz will play?" he asked. "You have a good idea, based off what he did in practice from the start of camp, but until they play, you can't definitely say." — Paul Attner, The Washington Post, 16 Oct. 1979

A large group of lenders were persuaded to accept price risk, political risk, completion risk and operating risks, since there were no guarantees from the sponsors and the sale price was based off the world market prices. — Mining Magazine, November 1981

But Grammarphobia seems to have dug deeper and found an even earlier date:

While “based off” may have become more popular recently, it’s not unseen in older writing. It’s been used occasionally since the early 1930s, mostly in trade journals. The earliest example we’ve been able to confirm appeared in a May 1931 issue of National Petroleum News:

“To consumers: … discounts are based off tank wagon price, and affect purchases of 1,000 gallons or more per month” (this notation appeared several times in column listings).

Here it is again in 1952:

Based off 1951 figures, the proposed constitutional amendment would cut Federal revenues by $16,000,000,000 a year” (from the Bulletin of the Metal Trades Department of the American Federation of Labor).

The M-W article compares the progress of the use of base off (of) with that of another similar phrase and records its proximity in meaning:

But if the use strikes you as very new that would make good sense: it’s seen a remarkable increase in popularity in the 21st century. Interestingly, the synonymously used phrase “going off (of)” has followed a similar use trajectory. The phrase going off (of) evokes the image of moving away from information or an idea that serves as a useful point of departure. It’s likely that “based off (of)” evokes the same image for people who use it.

As you may have noticed already, the sources quoted by M-W are American, and it is interesting to see that go off (of), just like base off (of), has also been more used by the Americans and is becoming more common as we speak. So I couldn't resist comparing the evolution of the preposition off of on both sides of the Atlantic, and again we find the same result. In 2002, CAGEL describes off of, in passing, as specific to American English:

Off licenses an of phrase only in AmE (%He fell off of the wall).

(p. 639)

Anne Curzan, a linguist and a professor of English at the University of Michigan, wrote an article about this issue in the Chronicle of Higher Education in October 2013, but unfortunately, I couldn't find a usable link to it, so I will have to use sources that quote her. Grammarphobia says:

The author of the article, Anne Curzan, wrote: “I have mentioned the construction to a few colleagues, and it’s clear at least some of them are circling it in student writing.” The use is also found outside routine classroom writing. Curzan passed along this example from the academic journal Exceptional Children (March 2012):

“For our study, the parameters used in the simulation were based off of values derived from a large empirical data set.”

As Curzan wrote in her article:

“With ‘based on’ one could argue that because things are physically built on bases, it makes more sense to say ‘based on.’ I agree: That is perfectly logical. But language isn’t always logical, and once ‘based on’ becomes as much or more metaphorical than literal, it doesn’t seem surprising to me that the preposition might shift—especially given that one can metaphorically ‘build off’ things.”

The expresion is more used by students and their linguist professors witness its force and find themselves as before an accomplished fact about which they cannot really do much :

This is an issue English Professor Anne Curzan has been hearing about from her colleagues. They say "based on" is correct, but their students tend to use "based off" or "based off of." Curzan says this is a losing battle. (Podchaser)

Grammarphobia indicates the increase in use is seen also in British English, and gives another explanation of what people might have in mind when they use it:

And we’ve found other recent examples of “based off” in academic journals, both American and British. By the way, “based off of” is just a puffed up version of “based off.” Our suspicion is that people who use “based off of” may have the phrase “on the basis of” in mind.

Grammarphobia have done their homework really thoroughly, as they quote very recent discussions among linguists about this issue, which also attribute this expression to youth:

Discussions of “based off” have come up periodically on the Linguist List, the online discussion group of the American Dialect Society, but only in the last 10 years. Writing on the list in 2006, Seán Fitzpatrick commented: “My daughters were discussing a forthcoming movie, and the 21-year-old said you had to give the auteur credit for originality, since the movie was ‘not based off a book, not based off another movie, and not based off a TV show.’
Another contributor, the linguist Arnold Zwicky wrote, “it’s now very widespread.” And it’s become even more widespread since 2006. Writing on the list in 2014, the slang lexicographer Jonathan Lighter reported a sighting of “based off” with another meaning: “as a result of; by reason of; from.”

For the time being, base off (of) is defined as an American informal phrase synonymous of the still more common base on:

(US, informal) To base on (Wikipedia, WordSense)

while dictionaries like Cambridge, Macmillan and Collins have no entry for it, redirecting either to based on or to off(-)base. Surprisingly, American Heritage Dictionary doesn't record it either.

An MA (English) [not from the young generation!] says on Quora:

Some people say “based off of” where I would say “based on.” It seems incorrect to me to say “based off of,” but I cannot offer a rule of grammar that is violated by “based off of,” so perhaps it is a new phrase entering the language.

while another British user (not in his twenties either) claims to be unfamiliar with based off:

I’m unfamiliar with the term, “based off”. Perhaps it’s used in US English. In British English, we typically say, “based on” - as in “Sherlock is a crime drama television series based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories.”

On the same page, another British user called Charles Gray, advocates very vividly against the use of based off, though he acknowledges its "englishness" (a very interesting read which I decided not to quote, as this post has become unacceptably long.

CONCLUSION: Based off (of) is still controversial and its use seems to point to the generation gap. While older professors frown at it, the phrase seems to gain field and its "wave" will not be stopped by language correctness nostalgics. In academic writing, it may be safer to use based on (universally understood and accepted), it still feels too soon to impose base off (of). However, when those students become professors themselves, if they haven't already, we can be pretty sure that base off (of) will make its way into more formal writing as well.

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    “Based on” for things that build upward. “Based off of” for things that strike out in multiple directions. A “base” can have more than one meaning. Jul 26, 2021 at 1:47
  • @GlobalCharm Yes, that is correct. I have focused on the OP's example, This story is based on/based off (of) a true story. If you check the link of Grammarphobia, you'll find a short reference to the fact that, yes, “base” has more than one meaning.
    – fev
    Jul 26, 2021 at 9:24
  • @tchrist I really want to praise the initiative you and other senior users take to revive such questions and challenge us. It was fascinating for me to do research for this answer. Thank you for your appreciation.
    – fev
    Aug 2, 2021 at 9:13
  • 1
    It is important to note that Google Ngrams are remarkably unreliable in distinguishing between American and British English. This can be tested by entering "color" as a search term in British English.
    – Greybeard
    Sep 15, 2021 at 18:47
5

Off what would such a clumsy expression be based? (I agree with Brian that one cannot "base off" of anything.) Here's ONE American who, while acknowledging that "based off" and "based off of" can be heard in illiterate spoken American English, does not support it.

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Generally speaking, it's better to avoid wordy ways of stating the same thing. So in this instance, "based on a true story" is more correct even if it is the same meaning as "based off of a true story."

Really the only time when "based off of" is used is when it replaces "serves as a basis for" since "based on" provides essentially all the same meaning except for that. Though it's more like a guideline than a rule, and if you used one other than the other, most people would likely not even notice.

3

"Off of" is used in various forms of English (UK as well as US) where standard dialects have "from" or "off".

But I have never heard "based off of", "based off" or "based from": in my experience the phrase is only "based on".

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Never heard it in Australia. To my ear its an obvious Americanism, and clumsy too. I would avoid it if you are trying to reach an international audience.

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"Based on" is standard and traditional". "Based off of" is a new usage, until recently only used by children. I don't know how a locution becomes standard among children when adults have never heard of it, unless it came from a cartoon show on TV or something like that.

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User 6769 has verified my following answer to a similar question:

I find the "based out of" and "based out of" usages to be faulty, indicating a misunderstanding of the word "based." "Based in" or "based on" are terms which, I believe, make sense considering the meaning of "based." "Based out of" and "based off of" can, of course, be explained as to what the user wants them to mean, but whether the user has made a good word choice is another matter.

As I understand the language, work and/workers can "come out of" the entity in which they are based, but they are not "based out of" there. Ideas can come from or off of a concept, in which case they are "based on" that initial concept, not "based off of" it.

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