Letters from the Grammarverse: Based Off is Off-Base

Making mobile apps about word usage puts me in the sometimes awkward position of having to be an expert. While having very proper tea and crumpets with a Cornell professor and her British husband last weekend, I was presented with the following query. She kindly crafted a Letter to the Grammarverse so that I could consult some outside experts to corroborate my instincts — and hers.

Dear Ballpoint,

Last semester while reading a student response paper, I caught the
expression “based off of” and quickly corrected it: “Do you mean ‘based
on‘?” It quickly became apparent that usage was not done in error, but
completely intentional as there it was again and again throughout the
work. To the student, who was from the west coast (California), this usage
was common and she believed it to be correct. I then started noticing it
in other student papers and hearing people use it in conversation. So,
what is the story on this expression which sounds so utterly wrong to me?
Should we professors just let it go? Has “based off of” become so common
and accepted that it is now correct? If so, what do we do with “based on”?
Can it be saved?

Dear Professor,

Indeed, “based off” and “based off of” are colloquial usages that belong to the young and carefree — very California. Rest assured, it hasn’t become so widely used that it poses any threat to the correct “based on”.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, the verb phrase base something on means “to use (something specified) as the foundation or starting point for something: the film is based on a novel by Pat Conroy | entitlement will be based on income.” Phras.in cites 962 million hits for “based on,” 13.6 million for “based off,” and 6.95 million for “based off of.”

“Based on” is safe. Anyone saying “based off” is simply off-base. Get out your red pen and slash with impunity!

Impunity: exemption from punishment or consequences.

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