Grammar Based Off Is Off Base |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Based Off Is Off Base

Enough is enough. It’s time to blow the whistle on an obnoxious faux idiom that has the popular culture under its spell. The offending usage is based off and its alternate form, based off of.

Both are everywhere. One hears and sees them constantly over the airwaves, in print, and online. A Google search yields these nauseous nuggets: “Dr. House is based off of Sherlock Holmes.” “Their favorite classic movies are based off old fairy tales.” “It’s basically a stretched out HTC One M8, which is what the tablet is based off of.” There are hundreds more.

Everyone knows the correct phrase, based on, which has been around forever. But somehow, on became off, or worse, off of—a compound preposition that all English authorities reject as substandard.

The logical conclusion is that anyone who says “based off” doesn’t know what based means. As a verb, to base means “to form a foundation for.” The noun base refers to the underlying part that something rests on, not off.

The words base and basis are closely related and sometimes synonymous. Would anybody say, “The board meets off a daily basis”?

There’s really no excuse for based off. Whoever coined it was just fooling around or talking too fast. It subsequently caught on with other knuckleheads, and now there are those who defend its legitimacy.

But based off is another example of what might be called “Frankenstein formations.” You know, grab a part from here, another part from over there, and stitch them together to create a monstrously unsuitable word or phrase. Witness how the unholy merging of regardless and irrespective begat irregardless, a gruesome beast that even pedants with pitchforks can’t drive from the countryside.

Today’s high schools and colleges turn out students with negligible language skills, and the result is heedless writing and speech. Once upon a time, people who knew their pronouns said, “You and I should invite her and her husband for dinner.” Now you’re more likely to hear, “You and me should invite she and her husband for dinner.” For some perverse reason, those who don’t watch their language tend to say things that are the precise opposite of correct.

That would seem to explain how based on became based off.


Pop Quiz

Two of the options in each sentence below are correct. Can you identify the “Frankenstein formation”?

1. I am calling in regards to/as regards/in regard to the job opening.
2. The paragraph comprises/is comprised of/is composed of three sentences.
3. The novel centers on/revolves around/centers around marriage in the eighteenth century.


Pop Quiz Answers

1. The phrase in regards to is nonstandard.
2. The phrase is comprised of is incorrect. The word comprise means “to be composed of,” so “comprised of” would mean “composed of-of.”
3. The phrase centers around is nonstandard.

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19 responses to “Based Off Is Off Base”

  1. Steve Lion says:

    I see! to have missed the off base” thing but haven’t missed the “based out of” thing which i guess you could call a sort of offshoot.
    As in “The band snooglevision is based out of Snerdlyville”. As opposed to “based in Snerdlyville.”
    That’s my 2 cents and I’m stickin’ to it.

  2. Barbara M. says:

    So true! And my pet peeve remains usage of the word “out” with the verbs “change” or “switch.” I must switch out my summer and winter clothes. Or I changed out the old lightbulbs for the new LED ones.”

    Thank you for your wonderful work!

    • Ron says:

      Another awkward, puzzling expression, heard often: “based out of”, as in “Microsoft is based out of Redmond, WA”. I write this without researching, but shouldn’t it be “based in”?

      Also, thanks GrammarBook! Every week I look forward to your emails to stimulate my own analysis.

  3. George B. says:

    A delightful “based on” review.

    I actually did “laugh out loud.”

    Since the Internet, linguistic eloquence appears doomed as the bar is lowered deeper and deeper into the usage cesspool.

    At times, it makes me go running for the poetic comfort of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine.” (Introduction: Just This Side of Byzantium.)

    Thank you for all your work in preserving the integrity of our words while interweaving a wit that would make Mr. Wilde smile.

    PS – Jane’s Blue Book is always within reach.

  4. Linda G. says:

    Thank you for making me feel like I’m not losing my mind. I was wondering when “based on” became “based off.” I’m hearing it from my kids and I just heard it from a teacher. Most of us are guilty of picking up nonstandard language and using it, but it’s nice to know so that we can correct it. Unfortunately, I don’t think my kids are listening, because it’s so cool to rebel. Argh!!

  5. shemthepenman says:

    I don’t often hear this, but I seem to be reading it a lot on the internet (mainly in the comments sections of… well, stuff that has comment sections). I wasn’t sure whether or not it was an american vs. british thing – I am glad that it doesn’t appear to be, and is one of those instances when the english language actually seems logical; because, let us be under no illusion, the old ‘things are based on and not off’ argument really doesn’t cut much ice when talking about idioms or phrasal verbs or whatnot. I mean just because something makes logical sense is not always the test of its validity – take for example the british ‘i couldn’t care less’ and the american ‘i could care less’, both are used to express the same thing, yet seem to actually [logically] be expressing entirely different things. Americans say ‘hold down the fort’ whereas the british say ‘hold the fort’, and I have heard a british fellow trying to make an argument that ‘hold down the fort’ is wrong, that the americans have it wrong ‘based on’ the fact that one does not hold a fort down. But that is silly, because the idiom is an idiom and doesn’t make any literal sense. To apply logic to idioms or phrasal verbs is a false security. The fact is, it is either standard or nonstandard and only the gods decide which is which (and by gods i mean the fellas that write dictionaries and stuff). In one hundred years both based on and off will be standard, and it will be a matter of preference – it is now anyway, but we still retain the right to ‘tut-tut’, shake a finger, and say ‘that’s not right’.
    To be honest, i think the internet will only strengthen the english language. If you asked the average teenager 20 years ago how much they wrote outside school hours, excluding homework, the majority would answer a resounding ‘nothing’. Ask your average teenage the same question today and the answer would be ‘every day… all the time’. They are continually trying to make themselves understood via the written word. Not to mention just as they are writing more they are also reading much more. And for every ‘based off’ or ‘could of’ they write or read there is countless examples of well crafted sentences being absorbed, too. TOO!? In the future I think we shall have an entire generation of linguistically dexterous kids that would run rings around Joyce or Beckett… maybe.

  6. Amy Guskin says:

    This one drives me crazy, too. I explain it to anyone who will listen. If you *must* use “off” or “off of” rather than “on,” the phrase you probably want is “springboarded off of” (which has its own problems, chiefly being the noun-as-verb issue).

  7. WJ Wizard says:

    I came here seeking solace among my fellow lovers of language and mutual defense against the construction “based off”, which actually makes me feel sick when I hear or read it.
    But the case of “based out of” seems different, and leads me to think more about these recent idioms. I think it arises from military parlance, in which we may have a “base of operations” or simple a “base”. In this case, “base” means something more than a structure that supports other structures built upon it. It has come to mean a type of location for organized activity, usually but not always military. We might also speak of the “base camp” of a mountaineering expedition, for example.
    From that perspective, to speak of being “based in Camp Pendleton” or even “based at…” is not outrageous to the ear or eye. From there, it’s not a long stretch to “based out of..” In these cases, “based” refers to the location that is the centre of operations for your organization. The geometric logic that we use against “based off” is off base in these other instances.
    Yet I still cannot stomach “based off” or “based off of”, despite my ability to digest the various other prepositions linked to “based”.

  8. Mike says:

    Thank you. “Based off” and “based off of” make me cringe when I hear them. A similar grammatical/verbal train wreck is when someone says they are “based out of” or “work out of” a particular city.

    “Nice to meet you. I work out of Dallas.”
    “Oh. So, you’re not IN Dallas, then?”
    “No, I’m in Dallas.”
    “You just said you work OUT of Dallas.”

    We have lots of words. I don’t understand why some people feel the need to mangle their meanings to be, often, the direct opposite of what they’re actually trying to say. I HAVE noticed, though, that many mimic the speech patterns of others, as if they are trends. Drives me up a wall.

  9. candace says:

    Wouldn’t three sentences comprise the paragraph rather than the paragraph comprising three sentences?

    • says:

      The grammatically correct way to express the sentence in Pop Quiz Question 2 is “The paragraph is composed of three sentences,” or “The paragraph comprises three sentences.” Please see our Confusing Words and Homonyms page for more information about the misuse of the word comprise.

  10. Ruth says:

    I had a friend who was “based out of Toledo,” and that meant he had an office in the company’s Toledo building but was rarely there. He was a salesperson and spent most of his time traveling around his assigned area. No one has mentioned this meaning. I was taught that based of off should be either based on or based upon.

    • says:

      We acknowledge the phrase “based out of” as a colloquialism in speech, but in formal writing the proper usage would be “based in.”

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