I don't quite understand the use of base on and based on. How do their meanings differ from one another? In the example below, should I use base on or based on?

Our lives base on / are based on norms and values.

  • "Our lives are based on norms and values." ... in English the (simple) present tense is rarely used to denote the present tense, so you can say "I am eating eggs for breakfast." or "I eat eggs for breakfast every day.", but not "I eat eggs for breakfast this morning.". I can't think of an easy example where "base on ..." would be correct. – Cargill Dec 1 '15 at 2:36
  • @Cargill "I base my views on fact, not superstition or hunches." – Anonym Dec 1 '15 at 3:04
  • Nothing wrong with that, but my point was that "base on ..." is not a common construction (in fact, it's probably unknown). I wasn't referring to "base [object] on ...". – Cargill Dec 1 '15 at 3:30
  • @Cargill, I'm not sure what your examples have to do with the transitive and intransitive constructions being suggested as alternatives. Can you explain? – RJH Dec 6 '15 at 1:43

In the most common usage, "base" is a transitive verb. One bases something on something else (active), whereas something is based on something else (passive).

In other words, generally native speakers think of "base" as requiring a direct object, as well as an indirect object: base (sth.) on (sth.). In this view, our lives cannot base on norms and values, they can only be based on norms and values (or we can base our lives on norms and values).

Analogously, you can say, "I throw the ball to Jim" or "the ball is thrown to Jim", but you cannot say "the ball throws to Jim".

This is apparently not a universal rule for "base", as you can see from one of the examples in its Dictionary.com entry, which is "Fluctuating prices usually base on a fickle public's demand." However, I would suggest that the vast majority of native speakers would prefer "Fluctuating prices are based on a fickle public's demand."

In sum, you cannot go wrong with base (sth.) on (sth.). On the other hand, you may be considered wrong by a listener if you use "base" as an intransitive verb, even though this latter construction is supported by dictionary examples. So if you see the phrase used without a direct object, just know that it's a less familiar construction to most native speakers.


I can see why you find this confusing - both "base" and "are based" are singular forms of "to base," so they appear to go with your plural subject, "lives."

To my ear, I would use "base" in the first person.

For instance: "I base my opinions on fact." Vs. "My opinions are based on fact."

So, it seems the difference is that you are using "to be based" vs "to base." I'm not clear at the moment whether or not it's a passive voice/active voice problem, or something else - will post back if I resolve it)

(also, in the question, you used "defer" which means "to put off" when you meant to use "differ" - hope that helps!)

  • It should be "differ". It's autocorrection error. – Jjang eu Dec 9 '15 at 12:20
  • Fair enough, just making sure! My phone dies that to me all the time... (does...) – C-Kennelly Dec 12 '15 at 3:41

I BASE my conclusions ON what I observe. My conclusions are BASED ON what I observe.

VOICE of verb is the reason why they ARE USED that way. The first verb is in the SIMPLE PRESENT, ACTIVE; the second is in the SIMPLE PRESENT, PASSIVE. Passive verb IS always FORMED with an auxiliary verb that tells the tense, plus a main verb which is always in the past participle form; hence, passive verb is always in a form of a phrase. A single-word verb can never be in the passive voice,

The verb is ACTIVE when the subject performs the action. When the doer is not the subject or IS not INDICATED, the verb is passive. ARE USED, IS FORMED, and IS INDICATED are also examples of passive verbs

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