Contingent – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did you know that the meaning of a word is not always set in stone?  That's right, the sense of a word can be different based on the context in which it is used.  "Contingent" means dependent on circumstances or conditions.  This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The meaning of "contingent" is "dependent on or conditioned by something else" or "able to occur or exist only if something else happens first”. In other words, a contingent meaning is something that is not certain and may only happen if something else occurs.

For example, our trip is contingent on getting the car fixed.  In this sentence, the event of going on the trip is dependent on the possibility of getting the car fixed.  If we don't get the car fixed, we can't go on the trip.

A contingent meaning is not always wrong.  It can simply describe something that is not definite and may only happen if something else happens first.  However, sometimes, a contingent meaning may be seen as unfavorable because it describes something uncertain or may not occur.

For example, I'm only going to the party contingent on my friends coming with me.  In this sentence, the speaker is not confident they will attend the party, and their attendance depends on their friends.  The speaker won't go if their friends don't go either. More information can be found in the video (here).

Example Usage

  • "The meeting is contingent upon the arrival of the boss."
  • "The outcome of the game is contingent on which team scores the most points."
  • "The success of our company is contingent on our ability to attract and retain top talent."
  • "My happiness is not contingent on whether I get the promotion or not."


The word "contingent" comes from the Latin word "contingere," which means "to happen," "befall," or "to touch “. Originally it was to indicate something happening by chance.  The current sense of the word "dependent on circumstances" comes from the early 18th century. Interestingly, the word "contingent" is often used in philosophical and legal contexts.  This is likely because these fields deal with uncertainty and what-if situations.

Phrases Similar to Contingent

Many phrases have a similar meaning to "contingent”. Here are a few of them:

  • "Subject to" means that something depends on something happening first.
  • "Dependent on" means that one thing relies on another for its existence.
  • "Conditional on" means that something will only happen if a particular condition is met.
  • "Pending on" standards that something is waiting to happen or depends on something else happening first.

Phrases opposite to Contingent

A few phrases also have the opposite meaning of "contingent”. Here are a few of them:

  • "Independent of" means that something is not affected by something else.
  • "Unrelated to" means that two things are not connected.
  • "Irrelevant to" means something is not essential or does not affect something else.
  • "Non-essential to" means that something is not necessary for something else.

What is The Correct Saying?

The correct saying is "contingent upon”. This phrase means that something is dependent on something else happening first.

Ways People May Incorrectly Say Contingent

The word "contingent" is often misused in place of words like "possible" or "probable." While all three terms denote a degree of likelihood, they have different implications.  Here are some examples if improper usage:

  • He is supposed to arrive at 3 pm contingent on where he sits on the airplane.
  • What contingent’s have you traveled to for business?
  • She may be awarded the top prize contingent on her finishing the race.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Contingent

This word is commonly used in business and legal contexts to describe conditions that must be met before an event can occur.  Hence, it is usually used as in "contingent upon," "contingent on," or "contingent upon completion." Here are some examples of proper usage:

  • The contract is contingent upon the down payment thresholds being met.
  • Being accepted into MIT us contingent upon the right test scores and a comprehensive educational history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *