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I'm a little bit confused when I use a sentence like "It is divided based on glasses of milk". I'm not sure, is "based on" used as an adverb or in the passive voice? I want to know for sure whether I'm using it correctly.

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  • Why do you think that matters?
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 1:41
  • because I want to know for sure that I used it correctly or not. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 2:01
  • Yes you did. Although I'm not sure what is being divided, nor how its division is related to [the number of ] glasses of milk. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 15:15
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    A traditionalist would probably remark that based on is adjectival rather than adverbial, and that if you're looking for an adverbial phrase you'd do better to go with on the basis of. What about, "The criterion of separation is the number of glasses of milk"? Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 14:07
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    There's no way to know if you used it correctly or not without a lot more context.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 13:16

2 Answers 2

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As Lachlan Dominic observes in a comment above, "based on" is interchangeable with "on the basis of" in many constructions. So, for example, you could say with equal accuracy and clarity

The league determines playoff seedings based on each team's number of regular-season wins.

and

The league determines playoff seedings on the basis of each team's number of regular-season wins.

The "It is divided based on glasses of milk" example is a bit difficult to interpret (because you don't provide a referent for It), but in terms of meaning it is interchangeable with

It is divided on the basis of glasses of milk.

Both the "based on" form of the sentence and the "on the basis of" form are coherent and grammatical, so here (and probably in most other cases) you are free to use the form you prefer.


UPDATE (9/16/2017) Having described real-world usage fairly accurately in my original answer (above), I feel that I should expand this answer to acknowledge a prescriptive view of "based on" that has existed for many decades.

Theodore Bernstein, The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage (1965) gives a succinct account of this view:

BASED ON

A latter-day tendency is to use based on as if it were an absolute participle like considering or given: "Based on future prices today for October delivery, Cuba will pay about $1.5 million for the shipment," This could be corrected to, "Based on future prices ... estimates are that, etc." Another example: "Once fully certified—based on {make it on the basis of} at least four years' carefully observed performance in the classroom—the new teacher would be licensed to teach anywhere in the United States." Some day based on may become an absolute phrase; but as of now, unless it has a clear and present subject, it must be classed as a DANGLER.

In short, Bernstein argues that a teacher may be fully certified on the basis of four or more years' carefully observed performance, but may not be fully certified based on such performance.

Almost forty years later, Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, second edition (2003) identifies two appropriate and two inappropriate applications:

based on. This phrase has two good and two bad uses. First, the phrase may carry a verbal force (base being a transitive verb)—e.g. [first example only]: "She said she based her ruling on Xiong's allegations." ...

Second, in a passive sense, it may carry an adjectival force (based being read as a past-participial adjective)—e.g. [first example only]: "A quick calculation based on U.S. data indicates a requirement of $13 billion a year for Afghanistan." ...

But traditionally speaking, based on should have neither adverbial nor prepositional force. Here it's an adverb: "American officials said they attacked the convoy based on intelligence reports." ... (Based on improperly modifies attacked. Try because of or owing to instead.) ...

And here it's a preposition (a DANGLER, to be exact): "Based on those conversations, Riley said he doubts Graham will play." ... (A suggested revision: Riley said that because of those conversations, he doubts ....)

At least in the third example—the adverbial one—Garner presumably would have had no objection to "on the basis of" in place of "based on."

Kenneth Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American Usage (1993), however, argues that in practical terms the "some day" at which "based on" becomes an absolute phrase (to use Bernstein's terminology) has arrived:

based on, based upon These combined uses as participial phrases, when they begin a sentence, often turn out to be dangling modifiers, although it is not necessary that they be so: Based upon the facts we have, my conclusion should stand up under scrutiny. But the fact is that based on and based upon, even when they dangle, are idiomatic in all but the most careful Edited English: Based upon {on} what we've heard, the police probably are ready to make an arrest. Most listeners will not notice such danglers at Conversational levels or in Semiformal or Informal writing.

Even fewer listeners will notice the adverbial "bad use" (according to Garner) of the phrase when it appears after the associated verb, as in "They could calculate nearby pick-up and drop-off points for their passengers based on optimized routing."

In any case, Wilson's distinction between Edited English and other forms of spoken and written English is a useful one to bear in mind.

The disapproval of "based on" in adverbial and prepositional settings persists in certain editorial precincts to this day—as I have been made aware repeatedly by colleagues at a company for which I have worked frequently in the past couple of years. But outside the rarefied air of Editorial English strongholds, "based on" used adverbially or prepositionally has overwhelmed any lingering objections to it with the sheer force of its ubiquity.

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  • "These combined uses as participial phrases, when they begin a sentence, often turn out to be dangling modifiers, although it is not necessary that they be so: Based upon the facts we have, my conclusion should stand up under scrutiny." -- How is the participial phrase a dangling modifier here? Isn't it modifying the clause after it? And is the summative non-restrictive relative in "You talk too much, which bothers me." considered a dangling modifier too? Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 12:54
  • @MrReality: The example that Wilson gives isn't a dangling modifier; it's an example supporting his assertion that "it is not necessary that [a phrase starting with 'based on' used as a participial phrase] be so"—that is, be dangling modifiers. An example in which "based on" does create a dangling modifier is this: "Based on your argument, I am convinced that I was wrong." Arguably, that sentence asserts that "I" (rather than my being convinced that I was wrong) is the thing based on "your argument." Whether dangling modifiers are therefore syntactically unacceptable is a separate issue.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 18:24
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your sentence is similar to this: "people are classified based on their characters." "based on" refers to "classified". as in saying :the classification of people is based on their character".

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