Dependence or Dependency? What is the difference?

“Dependence” and “dependency” are both words that reference reliance upon someone or something else for support. In short, “dependence” is a quality of reliance and “dependency” is the act or state of being dependent.

Therefore, a fine line distinguishes these nouns. But, you can think of it in terms of the tangible (dependency) versus the abstract (dependence).

“Dependence” Definition

“Dependence” is an uncountable noun in the abstract referring to someone (or other living being) who relies on someone or something outside of themselves for survival, achievement, or success. It can also refer to an addiction, signifying an irrational overreliance on a substance.

But, it can also refer to a situation where one thing must first occur in order for the next step in a process can continue. Consider the examples below:

The elderly have a dependence on their pensions.

Mass drug dependence is a reflection of a weak and broken society.

Politicians’ dependence on voters is crucial to getting into office.

“Dependency” Definition

“Dependency” can be an uncountable noun but also a countable or variable one with a galvanized implication. It’s more tangible, concrete and has a more physical presence.

This can relate to someone’s control over another person or thing. It can also mean someone’s overreliance on something. However, “dependency” can indicate addiction.

  • Countable: The United States has a dependency on the Federal Reserve.
  • Uncountable: Maxwell’s dependency on his mother can be concerning at times.
  • Variable: Alcohol dependency has grown exponentially in the last few years.

Mnemonic Device

The best way to understand the difference between “dependence” and “dependency” is to pay attention to the suffixes at the end of each. These are –ence and –ency.

–ence is the abstract quality of being dependent

–ency is the concrete state of being dependent

Consider the separation of definitions in the examples below:

Gambling dependence is a growing problem among the unemployed.

Many unemployed people tend to pick up a gambling dependency.

Welfare systems end create dependency on the government.

It’s almost as if the government wants people to have a dependence on welfare.


The good news about “dependence” and “dependency” is that they are often interchangeable. So, even if you make a mistake, it won’t usually be too strange or awkward. Just remember that “dependence” is the quality and “dependency” is the state of having to rely on someone or something else.