Grammar nitpicks, descriptive linguistics, etc

I had a little bit of trouble parsing this headline.

The sentence is actually ambiguous between situations like:

  1. John mowed my lawn. I paid John to mow my lawn.


  1. I watched a movie. I paid the movie theater to watch the movie.

For whatever reason, I kept trying to parse the headline as though it were like 1. rather than 2, which was a confusing and even more horrible interpretation. I suspect that constructions like 1 are more frequent than those like 2.

I’ve wondered this too. Bugs me a good bit.


I think the cognitive linguists (i.e. Langacker, Talmy etc.) would say that the change is actually conceptual rather than just grammatical. For me, “base on”, means that you have a prototype and you more or less modify it in place to get the final output, whereas, “based off (of)” has this idea that you first form a copy that you move into a different place. But those function words are always slippery so it is hard to tell.


Maybe “based on” is for situations where the secondary creative endeavor explicitly states it was derived from the first, involves very specific aspects of the first, and (hopefully) the original creator was paid. Leaving “based off” for situations where the secondary creative effort is coincidentally very like the first or is more a riff off some ideas in the first, not a explcit re-do?

Or not. Merriam-webster says it is a language change. 'Based On' or 'Based Off': Which is Right? | Merriam-Webster


Yeah, not. I agree with MW that it’s a language change. Like, literally. :wink:

I just think it’s a dumb one. Why add an extra word? Grrrrrrr


I should really know better than to try and find logic in languages, particularly english!



1 Like

Same. Based “based on” fan.

1 Like

While we’re on the topic, how does everyone feel about “based around.” as in, “His entire philosophy is based around a book he read in high school.” It seems to suggest a kind of outward expansion from the book, but some people have said that it defies logic to say that something is based “around” something.

As for “based off,” I have always had the impression that it signifies a major departure from the original (i.e. basis), kind of like saying “loosely based on” or “used as a starting point.”


“Based around” to me means that a bunch of different aspects feature something as a central feature. “We based the WonderBot 5000 around the i263 AI chipset.” means that they started with the i263 AI chipset and all of the other design decisions were a result of that starting point so that they are somehow all directly or indirectly related to that decision. The “around” part seems very natural in that you could put a whole bunch of other verbs in there to replace it.

“We designed the car around a solor-powered engine.”
“He lives his life around a stoic philosophy.”


Every time I see someone using “Gilead” like this, I feel bad for Marilynne Robinson.


Are you sure it shouldn’t be “Vehicle width-restrictor”? It is a compound of three nouns and the headed-ness sure seems ambiguous to me. In other words, should it be

( (VehicleNN widthNN)AdjP restrictorNN)NP
( VehicleNN (widthNN restictorNN)NN)NP

Both types of compounds common and semantically it is something like “A restrictor on Vehicle width” vs “A width-restrictor for vehicles”.

Yes, I’m sure. Thanks for asking.

Are you also sure that you should call a noun-noun compound an adjective?

I know that this is a personal, stylistic choice on my part (and possibly not fully “correct”), but I really, really do not like using hyphens and will avoid using them to the extent possible without sacrificing meaning.

For example, when my company developed what they call “性能持続技術,” I insisted on translating it as “Performance Sustaining Technology” in all of the press materials even though I knew that there should be a hyphen between “Performance” and “Sustaining.” Hyphens just seriously mess with the flow of a sentence…

1 Like

Beidseitige, unverschiebbar montierte Fahrspurbreitenbeschränkungspfosten.

I don’t think so, especially when they clarify meaning.

Performance Sustaining Technology without a hyphen could be confusing if readers wonder if the performance being talked about somehow sustains technology.

Are you asking for four foot-long boards or four-foot-long boards?

I realize from your comment though that you do consent to using them at times. :wink:


Yeah, I usually just use prepositions (or adverbs) to work around having to stick two nouns (or two adjectives) together to begin with, but I will use a hyphen if it can’t be avoided. I will almost always choose to write “a man, aged twenty,” or “a man who is twenty years old” instead of “a twenty-year-old man,” just because I like to have no single word stick out in a sentence just because of its length.

I find that the use of hyphens becomes rather inconsistent with proper nouns, so you can bend the rules a bit when you are coining a new term. Translation is fun in that way.


Gimme four candles.