How to Use 'It Depends' in Conversation

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In conversation, it is not always possible to give a yes or no answer to a question about our opinion. Life is not always black or white! For example, imagine you are having a conversation about your study habits. Someone might ask you: "Do you study hard?" You might want to say: "Yes, I study hard." However, that statement might not be 100% true. A more accurate answer might be: "It depends on which subject I'm studying.

If I'm studying English, then yes I study hard. If I'm studying math, I don't always study hard." Of course, the answer, "Yes, I study hard." might be truthful as well. Answering questions with 'it depends' allows you to answer questions with more nuance. In other words, using 'it depends' lets you say in which cases something is true and which cases false.

There are a few different grammar forms involved when using 'it depends'. Take a look at the following structures. Be sure to carefully note when to use 'It depends on ...', 'It depends if ...', 'It depends on how /what / which / where, etc.', or simply 'It depends.'

Yes or No? It Depends

The most simple answer is a sentence stating 'It depends.' After this, you can follow up by stating yes and no conditions. In other words, the meaning of the phrase:

It depends. If it is sunny - yes, but if it is rainy - no. = It depends if the weather is good or not.

Another common conversational reply to a yes / no question is 'It depends. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.' However, as you can imagine answering a question with this doesn't provide much information. Here is a short dialogue as an example:

Mary: Do you enjoy playing golf?
Jim: It depends. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Answering the question with a more complete version provides more information:

Mary: Do you enjoy playing golf?
Jim: It depends. If I play well - yes, but if I play badly - no.

It depends on + noun / noun clause

One of the most common ways to use 'it depends' is with the preposition 'on'. Be careful to not use another preposition! I sometimes hear 'It depends about...' or 'It depends from ...' these are both incorrect. Use 'It depends on' with a noun or noun phrase, but not with a full clause. For example:

Mary: Do you like Italian food?
Jim: It depends on the restaurant.


Mary: Do you like Italian food?
Jim: It depends on the type of restaurant.

It depends on how + adjective + subject + verb

A similar usage that takes a full clause is 'It depends on how' plus an adjective followed by adjective and full clause. Remember that a full clause takes both the subject and verb. Here are a few examples:

Mary: Are you lazy?
Jim: It depends on how important the task is to me.

Mary: Are you a good student?
Jim: It depends on how difficult the class is.

It depends on which / where / when / why / who + subject + verb

Another similar use of 'It depends on' is with questions words. Follow 'It depends on' with a question word and a full clause.

Here are a few examples:

Mary: Are you usually on time?
Jim: It depends on when I get up.

Mary: Do you like buying gifts?
Jim: It depends on who the gift is for.

It depends + if clause

Finally, use 'it depends' with an if clause to express conditions for whether something is true or not. It's common to end the if clause with 'or not'. 

Mary: Do you spend a lot of money?
Jim: It depends if I'm on vacation or not.