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01 January 2013

Grammar: Correct Usages of According To, Depending On, Based On, and Based Upon

POP QUIZ:  Choose the correct answers
Maria will write a story _____________ Rob*
a. based on
b. based upon
c. according to
d. depending on
* The answer will depend on your intended meaning. 

QUESTION:  Is Rob, or to be more accurate, Rob’s life the basis/source of the story? YES
Answer: Maria will write a story based on Rob’s life.
Informal: Maria will write a story based upon Rob’s life. (Please note that Oxford Dictionary does not have an entry on “based upon.”)

QUESTION:  Did the statement “I will write a story” come from Rob? YES
Answer: According to Rob, Maria will write a story. I wonder if that is true.

Note that “According To” is also used in proportion or relation to a criterion (Examples: experience, age, gender, nationalities, etc.) from Oxford Dictionary
Employees’ salary increase will be fixed according to experience.
We will group the class according to gender.

QUESTION:  Is Rob (his permission, approval, decision or whatever) the important requirement to write a story or not? YES
Answer: Maria will write a story depending on Rob. To be more specific, if Rob gives her the go signal and the money, then she will start writing the story.

Now, CHOOSE the correct answer for the sentence below.
I will group the class ___________ gender.
a. based on
b. based upon
c. according to
d. depending on

The answer is “according to”


[A] According to a person’s statement or information from a report, data or text
According to + who (based on what someone said)
Example: The meeting will be cancelled according to the secretary.

[B] According to + what (report, documents, texts, books)
According to the Gospel, we should love our enemies
There will be scattered rain and thunderstorm according to the latest weather forecast
The company lost much money according to the last quarter report
According to the survey, Rob is at number 25.

[C] In a manner corresponding or conforming to (examples: plan, instructions) [Definitions and examples taken from Oxford Dictionary.]
Example: He cooked the rice according to the instructions

[D] In proportion or relation to (examples: experience, age, gender, nationalities, etc.) [Definitions and examples taken from Oxford Dictionary]
Employees’ salary increase will be fixed according to experience.
We will group the class according to gender.


Determined by the place, condition, circumstances or another person’s condition.
Depending on the (weather, condition /health/, traffic, time, day, place, what kind, budget, schedule, person)
We will watch a movie depending on the weather. If it rains, I think we’d better stay.
Your score will depend on many things: your knowledge of the subject matter, and your physical and psychological condition during the test.

[The information below is taken from Oxford Dictionary]
In informal use, it is quite common for the ON to be dropped such as “it all depends on how you look at it” (rather than “it all depends on how you look at it”), but in well-formed written English the ON should be retained.

Using Oxford Dictionary online as reference, I did not find any entry on the phrase “based upon” but I found an entry on “based on.”

(Base something on) use (something specified) as the foundation or starting point for something [Definition and examples taken from Oxford Dictionary online]
The film is based on a novel by Pat Conroy.
Entitlement will be based on income.

Some teachers claim that “based on” and “based upon” are interchangeable. On the net, the two phrases are used interchangeably. When you go to Google and you search for "based on" and "based upon," here are some results that you may find:

a. Based on a true story
b. Based upon a true story
c. Based upon a novel
d. Based on function
e. Based on hearsay
f. Based on the book
g. Based on synonym
h. Based on income
i. Based upon availability
j. Based upon synonyms/antonyms
k. Based upon surface
l. Based upon furniture
m. Based upon definition

However, please note that the internet is also full of grammar errors and so caution is advised. In informal speaking, “based upon” might be acceptable.

Bottom-line, I suggest that you use “based on” because it is more formal. Just remember to use "based on" when the object is used as a basis or source to create something.

Incorrect: I will group the class based on gender (Gender is not the material that I use to start a group. Gender is also not source of information that I use to make a group)

Correct: I will group the class according to gender (This is correct because I will use gender as the guide or criterion in dividing the group. Gender is just used as a simple determining factor to separate the class, nothing more.)

However: I will choose the president of the class based on a student's overall performance.
(Using "based on" in this sentence is correct because I will use a student's overall performance to make my decision.  Overall performance includes his attendance record, his grades in all his tests, his participation in class, his written reports, projects and many more. I am not just getting one specific piece of information but I will use all the data, analyze them to come up with a final decision).

More comparisons:
a. I wrote a screenplay based on my life. (The events in my life will be the source of information to write my screenplay)

b. Einstein's remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered around the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study according to Wikipedia. (I got this specific information from Wikipedia)

c. According to John, our teacher will be absent (I got this specific information from John)

d. We sold our souvenirs when we ran out of money. This was according to our plan. (We have a plan and selling our souvenirs when we have no more money is part of our plan. We are just following our plan)

e. I travel depending on the weather (The weather condition is my guide to do something or not)

Honestly, I do not think I completely settled the issue but I hope this will help clarify some confusion and I am certain there are easier and more authoritative explanations available out there.  I hope this help you anyway.  Thanks.


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