Dependant vs. dependent

In American English, dependent is (1) an adjective meaning contingent on another, and (2) a noun meaning a person who is financially supported by someone else. Dependant is a rare alternative spelling with no definitions of its own.

According to every British reference resource we checked, British English treats dependant as the noun and dependent as the adjective.1 2 3 We do find the distinction borne out in real-world usage, but it’s by no means consistent. Both spellings regularly appear as both nouns and as adjectives.

We checked the Guardian and Daily Telegraph style books (because they’re available online, not because they’re the most authoritative), and both make the distinction, saying dependant is the noun and dependent the adjective.4 5 Yet Google site searches reveal that neither of these publications consistently follows its own style policy. Both tend to keep the words separate, but exceptions abound.


Let’s look at a few examples from British publications:

Polymetal’s prospectus concedes how dependant the company is on Mr Kerimov. [Independent]

There is also likely to be a curb on the number of dependents they can bring with them. [Guardian]

Older people don’t want to become dependant, but councils need to help them help themselves. [Telegraph]

Parents could spend more time with their children or other dependents. [Daily Mail]


1. Cambridge Dictionaries ^
2. Collins dictionary ^
3. Chambers dictionary ^
4. Guardian style guide ^
5. Telegraph style book ^

8 thoughts on “Dependant vs. dependent”

  1. “Yet this Ngram, which charts the use of dependants and dependents in British books published from 1900 to 2008, shows dependents appears approximately twice for every instance of dependants.”

    Whoaaa; the chart shows otherwise; red line is almost always higher than the blue line. :)

    • Thanks for catching that. We actually attached the wrong graph. We’ll take that section down for now and put it back when we get the Ngram sorted out.

  2. And yet all of your newspaper examples use “dependent” as noun and “dependant” as adjective – precisely the reverse of the instructions given here, the dictionary definitions, and (in the case of the Guardian journalist) the insistence of their own style guides. Can we find examples of journalists getting this right, perhaps?

  3. It’s worth noting that UK newspapers – and perhaps especially the Guardian, which you refer to – are increasingly sloppy in terms of grammar (among other things), really quite dramatically in recent years. Furthermore, if you look at the discussion in their comments section, it seems that for many readers any concern with grammar is seen as “irrelevant”, as the hip kids say. And by the way the same is true, to a somewhat lesser extent, of the BBC.
    I mention this only because it means the evidential value of Guardian usage is limited, unless you take a strict “usage determines correctness” descriptivist approach. But even then, this would be to give a few semi-literate journalists a disproportionate influence as arbiters of grammar. It seems to me you would be well advised to pay more attention to these papers’ style guides than to their practice.


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