Two Words: Dependent / Dependant

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Is it dependent or dependant? Perhaps either one?

And what does this have to do with smoking hippopotamuses?

First, the grammar gremlin:

To be dependent (with an “e”) is to rely on, or be supported by, something or someone. Maybe I’m dependent, for example, on coffee to get me going in the morning.

In British English, a dependant (with an “a”) is one who is dependent. Thus dependent is the adjective, dependant the noun.

In American English, dependent (with an “e”) mostly is used for both adjective and noun forms. But dependant (with an “a”) is a rare alternate spelling that also can be used both ways.

Are these fixed rules? No, I’d say they’re merely fashion. There are plenty of Americans who use “dependant” according to the British model. And plenty of Brits who mingle the spellings interchangeably. (The British Oxford dictionary now supports this.)

Now let’s talk about that hippo connection.

My Anagram Addiction

My British food-blogger pal, Ian Dixon, recently created a recipe for “chip topped bacon and tomato pie”. I couldn’t resist pointing out that these letters rearrange to spell “tobacco-dependant hippopotami”.

That’s what got me wondering whether the correct spelling is “dependent” or “dependant”. As we’ve just seen, it really doesn’t matter: You can write it any ol’ which way!

Next, is it hippopotami – or hippopotamuses? Short answer: Who cares? Even shorter answer: hippos!

(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)


Two Words: Dependent / Dependant — 4 Comments

  1. Well, you may not care first until you get to add in in front of dependent. I am sure you don’t write independant, do you? Or Independance Day, for that matter? The adjective noun divide is real. I had to learn this one the hard way 35+ years ago and I sure as hell am not going to let them get mixed up again.

    • @Dev, my glib “who cares” was about whether we say “hippopotami” or “hippopotamuses”. I agree with you that the “adjective-noun divide is real”: Independent = adjective, independant = noun. That’s certainly true in British English, though some Americans observe the distinction as well. (And a growing number of Brits mix them up, even in educated and literary contexts.)

      But it’s still true that in American English, the “e” form (independent) most customarily is used for both the adjective and the noun: I can be “a dependent” as well as merely “dependent”. The most popular dictionaries all support this usage.

      I share your frustration with this: There are plenty of things we all learned 35 years ago that have changed in practice, and I rebel, no matter how futilely. Like the whole compose/comprise fiasco, which some dictionaries now let us use interchangeably. So okay, I’ve dialed back my public protests. But I refuse to give in in my own writing.

      • I was being tongue in cheek of course. I found this especially interesting as I had to learn this difference very carefully as a child. I couldn’t figure out the difference at first, and my father explained to me. Then I remember looking it up in the dictionary over and over again.

        It is interesting also to look back to that time, because, obviously there was no internet (heck, we didn’t even have a phone) and I was not in any way held back from learning or satisfying my curiosity. I looked up dictionaries, went to the library all the time. If I had a question, I knew how to find the answer, by hook or by crook. But now, the modem turns off for an hour and I am frustrated. 😀

        • Great points all. Both my first two books entailed many years of research, with hours of flipping through thick volumes, sometimes looking for things I thought I remembered, sometimes stumbling across new stuff. Or visiting libraries to wander the aisles, aimlessly browsing in hope of finding something relevant. The result being fat notebooks and file folders that eventually got written up.

          Now I mostly use search engines and databases. It’s certainly faster. In some ways, maybe better — but I’m not sure. My impression is that there are crucial details one can miss altogether. Certainly my older, pre-Internet books contain lots of things that would be missing if I had researched them using the tools I mostly rely on today!

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