The Easy Explanation
In British English, dependent is the adjective, and dependant is the noun.
“Dependent” is the adjective meaning needing something or someone else for support: Many adults are dependent upon coffee to help them wake up in the morning.
“Dependant” is a noun used for a person (such as a child) who relies upon others for care: The parents must sign for a dependant to be able to have the surgery.
Those who speak American English can rest easy on this one. The word “dependent” is used for both meanings. There is no word “dependant.”
When to Use Dependent vs. Dependant
The word “dependent” is an adjective meaning to be controlled or supported by someone or something else (as in dependent on drugs or dependent upon the weather).
In British English, the word “dependant” is the noun used for a person who is dependent (as in the mother and her dependant). In American English, there is no such word; the spelling “dependent” is used for both meanings.
Examples of Dependent vs. Dependant
- The location of the final soccer match is dependent upon the weather. (meaning controlled by something else)
- Kim is completely dependent on her mother’s financial assistance. (meaning supported by someone else)
- The refugees and their dependants arrived in the United States. (British English: meaning people who are dependent)
- The life insurance money was used to care for the dead man’s dependants. (British English: meaning people who are dependent)
How to Remember the Difference
To remember which is the noun form, notice how the word “ant” is hiding in “dependant.” “Ant” is a noun just like a “dependant” is. If you have trouble figuring out if the word is a noun or an adjective, try plugging the word “people” into its place. If it still mostly makes sense (you might have to try the word “person” as well for it to sound better), then it’s a noun and you should use the spelling “dependant” for proper British English.
Theory Into Practice: Which Is Which?
Is the underlined word correct for British English? See if you can tell.
- The court summoned the widow’s dependents to appear before the judge.
Wrong: This is a noun, so British English requires the spelling of “dependant” be used.
- Her body quickly became dependent on the drugs, and she couldn’t go a day without them.
Right: The word means reliant, so “dependent” is correct.