On vs. Upon: What's the Difference?
On" is a common preposition indicating position or continuity, while "Upon" is a more formal variant, often implying movement or action.
"On" and "Upon" are prepositions in the English language, integral to illustrating relationships between different elements in a sentence. While "On" is frequently used in everyday language to denote position, "Upon" carries a slightly more formal tone.
The usage of "On" is diverse, often signifying a surface contact or support. For instance, when we say, "The book is on the table," we describe the book's position. "Upon," on the other hand, can be used interchangeably with "On" in some contexts but is often chosen to emphasize an action, like "She stumbled upon a secret."
"On" frequently relates to continuity in events or actions. An example could be, "On hearing the news, he left immediately." In contrast, "Upon" can stress immediacy or directly following an action: "Upon hearing the news, he was shocked."
Time references often utilize "On" to mark specific days or dates: "I will meet you on Friday." While "Upon" might be less common in temporal contexts, it shines in literary or ceremonial usages, like "Once upon a time."
In modern American English, "On" is pervasive in both spoken and written contexts due to its simplicity and brevity. "Upon" is a touch more poetic or elevated, reserving its place for more deliberate emphases or formal writings.
Frequently used in everyday language.
More formal and less common than "On."
Position vs. Action
Primarily denotes position.
Often emphasizes action or movement.
Used for specific days or dates.
Rarely used in temporal contexts.
Elevated, sometimes poetic.
"On the table", "On Friday."
"Upon his arrival", "Stumbled upon."
On and Upon Definitions
Indicating position or surface contact.
The glasses are on the shelf.
Shortly or immediately after.
Upon seeing the scene, he called the police.
As a result of something.
On inspection, the fault was obvious.
By the means or action of.
She entered the room upon his request.
Describing a state or condition.
The town is on alert.
Indicating reliance or basis.
A nation built upon trust.
Used to indicate position above and supported by or in contact with
The vase is on the table. We rested on our hands and knees.
On top of; directly followed by.
The cat jumped upon the wall.
Used to indicate contact with or extent over (a surface) regardless of position
A picture on the wall.
A rash on my back.
The leaves are scattered upon the grass. He put the book upon the table. Upon hearing the news, we all cheered.
Used to indicate location at or along
The pasture on the south side of the river.
A house on the highway.
Physically above and in contact with.
Place the book upon the table.
Used to indicate proximity
A town on the border.
Physically directly supported by.
The crew set sail upon the sea.
She balanced upon one foot.
Used to indicate attachment to or suspension from
Beads on a string.
Being followed by another so as to form a series.
Hours upon hours, years upon years, mile upon mile of desert
Used to indicate figurative or abstract position
On the young side, but experienced.
On her third beer.
Stopped on chapter two.
At (a prescribed point in time).
The contract was rendered void upon his death.
Used to indicate actual motion toward, against, or onto
Jumped on the table.
The march on Washington.
Used to indicate figurative or abstract motion toward, against, or onto
Going on six o'clock.
Came on the answer by accident.
On; - used in all the senses of that word, with which it is interchangeable.
Our host upon his stirrups stood anon.
Thou shalt take of the blood that is upon the altar.
The Philistines be upon thee, Samson.
As I did stand my watch upon the hill.
He made a great difference between people that did rebel upon wantonness, and them that did rebel upon want.
This advantage we lost upon the invention of firearms.
Upon the whole, it will be necessary to avoid that perpetual repetition of the same epithets which we find in Homer.
He had abandoned the frontiers, retiring upon Glasgow.
Philip swore upon the Evangelists to abstain from aggression in my absence.
Used to indicate occurrence at a given time
On July third.
Every hour on the hour.
Used to emphasize something unexpected or coincidental.
He stumbled upon a hidden treasure.
Used to indicate the particular occasion or circumstance
On entering the room, she saw him.
Used to indicate the object affected by actual, perceptible action
The spotlight fell on the actress. He knocked on the door.
Used to indicate the object affected by a figurative action
Have pity on them.
Used to indicate the object of an action directed, tending, or moving against it
An attack on the fortress.
Used to indicate the object of perception or thought
Gazed on the vista.
Meditated on his actions.
Used to indicate the agent or agency of a specified action
Cut his foot on the broken glass.
Talked on the telephone.
Used to indicate a medicine or other corrective taken or undertaken routinely
Went on a strict diet.
Used to indicate a substance that is the cause of an addiction, a habit, or an altered state of consciousness
High on dope.
Used to indicate a source or basis
"We will reach our judgments not on intentions or on promises but on deeds and on results" (Margaret Thatcher).
Used to indicate a source of power or energy
The car runs on methane.
Used to indicate the state or process of
On the way.
Used to indicate the purpose of
Travel on business.
Used to indicate a means of conveyance
Ride on a train.
Used to indicate availability by means of
Beer on tap.
A physician on call.
Used to indicate belonging to
A nurse on the hospital staff.
Used to indicate addition or repetition
Heaped error on error.
A book on astronomy.
Concerning and to the disadvantage of
We have some evidence on him.
(Informal) In one's possession; with
I haven't a cent on me.
At the expense of; compliments of
Drinks on the house.
In or into a position or condition of being supported by or in contact with something
Put the coffee on.
In or into a position of being attached to or covering something
Put your clothes on.
In the direction of something
He looked on while the ship docked.
Toward or at a point lying ahead in space or time; forward
The play moved on to the next city.
At or to a more distant point in time or space
I'll do it later on.
Toward or to a different state or condition
Let's move on to another subject.
In a continuous course
He worked on quietly.
In or into performance or operation
Turn on the radio.
In progress or action; in a state of activity
The show must go on.
In or at the present position or condition
In a condition of being scheduled for or decided upon
There is a party on tonight.
Being in operation
The television is on.
Engaged in a given function or activity, such as a vocal or dramatic role
You're on in five minutes!.
Under or behaving as if under observation
A minister is always on.
(Informal) Functioning or performing at a high degree of competence or energy
The goalie is really on.
We have nothing much on for this weekend.
Happening; taking place
The parade is on.
(Baseball) Having reached base safely; on base
Two runners are on.
In the state of being active, functioning or operating.
All the lights are on, so they must be home.
Performing according to schedule; taking place.
Are we still on for tonight?
Is the show still on?
We had to ration our food because there was a war on.
That TV programme that you wanted to watch is on now.
Fitted; covering; being worn.
Your feet will soon warm up once your socks are on.
I was trying to drink out of the bottle while the top was still on!
(postpositive) Of a stated part of something, oriented towards the viewer or other specified direction.
The photograph shows the UFO side on.
Edge on, side on, end on, face on
You can't do that; it's just not on.
(informal) Destined, normally in the context of a challenge being accepted; involved, doomed.
"Five bucks says the Cavs win tonight." ―"You're on!"
Mike just threw coffee onto Paul's lap. It's on now.
Having reached a base as a runner and being positioned there, awaiting further action from a subsequent batter.
(cricket) Within the half of the field on the same side as the batsman's legs; the left side for a right-handed batsman.
The captain moved two fielders to the on side.
Ponsonby-Smythe hit a thumping on drive.
Acting in character.
To an operating state.
Turn the television on
So as to cover or be fitted.
The lid wasn't screwed on properly.
Put on your hat and gloves.
Along, forwards (continuing an action).
Drive on, rock on
In continuation, at length.
And so on
He rambled on and on.
(obsolete in the US) Later.
Ten years on, nothing had changed in the village.
Of betting odds, denoting a better-than-even chance. See also odds-on.
That horse is twenty-to-one on, so you need to stake twenty pounds just to win one pound.
Positioned at the upper surface of, touching from above.
A vase of flowers stood on the table.
Please lie down on the couch.
The parrot was sitting on Jim's shoulder.
Positioned at or resting against the outer surface of; attached to.
He had a scar on the side of his face.
There is a dirty smudge on this window.
The painting hangs on the wall.
The fruit ripened on the trees.
Expressing figurative placement or attachment.
All of the responsibility is on him.
I put a bet on the winning horse.
Denoting performance or action by contact with the surface, upper part, or outside of anything; hence, by means of; with.
To play on a violin or piano
At or in (a certain region or location).
The lighthouse that you can see is on the mainland.
The suspect is thought to still be on the campus.
Near; adjacent to; alongside.
The fleet is on the American coast.
Croton-on-Hudson, Rostov-on-Don, Southend-on-Sea
Supported by (the specified part of itself).
A table can't stand on two legs.
After resting on his elbows, he stood on his toes, then walked on his heels.
So as to impart force to.
Tug on the rope; push hard on the door
So as to impact; against.
I stubbed my toe on an old tree stump.
He wore old shoes on his feet.
(with certain modes of transport, especially public transport) Inside (a vehicle) for the purpose of travelling.
On a bus, on a train, on a plane
At the date of.
Born on the 4th of July.
Some time during the day of.
On Sunday I'm busy. I'll see you on Monday.
Can I see you on a different day?
At a given time after the start of something; at.
Smith scored again on twelve minutes, doubling Mudchester Rovers' lead.
Dealing with the subject of; about; concerning.
I was reading a book on history.
The city hosted the World Summit on the Information Society
I have no opinion on this subject.
(informal) In the possession of.
I haven't got any money on me.
Because of, or due to.
To arrest someone on suspicion of bribery
To contact someone on a hunch
Upon; at the time of (and often because of).
On Jack's entry, William got up to leave.
On the addition of ammonia, a chemical reaction begins.
Paid for by.
The drinks are on me tonight, boys.
The meal is on the house.
I paid for the airfare and meals for my family, but the hotel room was on the company.
Indicating a means or medium.
I saw it on television.
Can't you see I'm on the phone?
My favorite shows are on BBC America.
The Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show is on YouTube.
The film was released on DVD.
Indicating the target of, or thing affected by, an event or action.
They planned an attack on London.
The soldiers mutinied and turned their guns on their officers.
Her words made a lasting impression on my mind.
What will be the effect on morale?
Toward; for; indicating the object of an emotion.
Have pity or compassion on him.
Indicating the person experiencing an emotion, cold, thirst, hunger, etc.
Indicating a means of subsistence.
They lived on ten dollars a week.
The dog survived three weeks on rainwater.
Engaged in or occupied with (an action or activity).
He's on his lunch break.
I'm on nights all this week.
On vacation; on holiday; on the job; on the fiddle
Regularly taking (a drug).
You've been on these antidepressants far too long.
He's acting so strangely, I think he must be on something.
Under the influence of (a drug).
He's acting crazy because he's on crack right now.
(mathematics) Having identical domain and codomain.
A function on
(mathematics) Having as domain and V as codomain, for some set V and integer n.
An operator on
(mathematics) Generated by.
The free group on four letters
In addition to; besides; indicating multiplication or succession in a series.
Heaps on heaps of food
Mischief on mischief; loss on loss
Indicating dependence or reliance.
I depended on them for assistance.
He will promise on certain conditions.
(obsolete) At the peril of, or for the safety of.
Serving as a member of.
He is on the jury; I am on the committee.
By virtue of; with the pledge of.
He affirmed or promised on his word, or on his honour.
To the account or detriment of; denoting imprecation or invocation, or coming to, falling, or resting upon.
On us be all the blame.
A curse on him!
Please don't tell on her and get her in trouble.
He turned on her and has been her enemy ever since.
He went all honest on me, making me listen to his confession.
(especially when numbers of combatants or competitors are specified) Against; in opposition to.
The fight was three on one, and he never stood a chance.
To switch on.
Can you on the light?
In the Japanese language, a pronunciation, or reading, of a kanji character that was originally based on the character's pronunciation in Chinese, contrasted with kun.
Most kanji have two kinds of reading, called "on" and "kun".
The general signification of on is situation, motion, or condition with respect to contact or support beneath
At, or in contact with, the surface or upper part of a thing, and supported by it; placed or lying in contact with the surface; as, the book lies on the table, which stands on the floor of a house on an island.
I stood on the bridge at midnight.
To or against the surface of; - used to indicate the motion of a thing as coming or falling to the surface of another; as, rain falls on the earth.
Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken.
Denoting performance or action by contact with the surface, upper part, or outside of anything; hence, by means of; with; as, to play on a violin or piano. Hence, figuratively, to work on one's feelings; to make an impression on the mind.
At or near; adjacent to; - indicating situation, place, or position; as, on the one hand, on the other hand; the fleet is on the American coast.
In addition to; besides; - indicating multiplication or succession in a series; as, heaps on heaps; mischief on mischief; loss on loss; thought on thought.
Indicating dependence or reliance; with confidence in; as, to depend on a person for assistance; to rely on; hence, indicating the ground or support of anything; as, he will promise on certain conditions; to bet on a horse; based on certain assumptions.
At or in the time of; during; as, on Sunday we abstain from labor. See At (synonym).
At the time of; - often conveying some notion of cause or motive; as, on public occasions, the officers appear in full dress or uniform; the shop is closed on Sundays.
Toward; for; - indicating the object of some passion; as, have pity or compassion on him.
At the peril of, or for the safety of.
By virtue of; with the pledge of; - denoting a pledge or engagement, and put before the thing pledged; as, he affirmed or promised on his word, or on his honor.
To the account of; - denoting imprecation or invocation, or coming to, falling, or resting upon; as, on us be all the blame; a curse on him.
His blood be on us and on our children.
In reference or relation to; as, on our part expect punctuality; a satire on society.
Or have we eaten on the insane rootThat takes the reason prisoner?
Occupied with; in the performance of; as, only three officers are on duty; on a journey; on the job; on an assignment; on a case; on the alert.
In the service of; connected with; a member of; as, he is on a newspaper; on a committee.
In reference to; about; concerning; as, to think on it; to meditate on it.
They have added the -en plural form on to an elder plural.
We see the strength of the new movement in the new class of ecclesiastics whom it forced on to the stage.
Forward, in progression; onward; - usually with a verb of motion; as, move on; go on; the beat goes on.
The path is smooth that leadeth on to danger.
Forward, in succession; as, from father to son, from the son to the grandson, and so on.
In continuance; without interruption or ceasing; as, sleep on, take your ease; say on; sing on.
Adhering; not off; as in the phrase, "He is neither on nor off," that is, he is not steady, he is irresolute.
Attached to the body, as clothing or ornament, or for use.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate.
In progress; proceeding; ongoing; as, a game is on.
In operation or operational;
Left the oven on
The switch is in the on position
(of events) planned or scheduled;
The picnic is on, rain or shine
We have nothing on for Friday night
Performing or scheduled for duties;
I'm on from five to midnight
Naval personnel on duty in Alaska
Her on-duty hours were 11p.m. to 7 a.m.
With a forward motion;
We drove along admiring the view
The horse trotted along at a steady pace
The circus traveled on to the next city
Indicates continuity or persistence or concentration;
His spirit lives on
Shall I read on?
In a state required for something to function or be effective;
Turn the lights on
Get a load on
Denoting a specific day or date.
We'll have a meeting on Tuesday.
Engaging or using as a means.
She was talking on the phone.
Can "On" be used for time references?
Yes, like "on Tuesday" or "on my birthday."
What does "stumble upon" mean?
It means to discover something unexpectedly.
Is "On" more prevalent in American English?
"On" is commonly used in both American and British English.
Can "On" and "Upon" be used interchangeably?
Often, but not always; "Upon" can have a more formal or action-oriented connotation.
Is "Upon" common in storytelling?
Yes, phrases like "Once upon a time" are classic in tales.
Does "On" indicate continuity?
Yes, as in phrases like "on going" or "on hearing the news."
Is "Upon" more formal than "On"?
Yes, "Upon" is generally more formal or literary than "On."
Can "Upon" be used in formal invitations?
Yes, like "Upon your arrival, please join us."
Can "On" denote dependency?
Yes, as in "on the condition that."
Is "Upon" used in idioms?
Yes, like "upon my word" or "once upon a time."
Can "On" indicate a method of travel?
Yes, as in "on foot" or "on a bus."
Is "Upon" often seen in older literature?
Yes, its usage was more common in classical English literature.
What's a poetic use of "Upon"?
"Upon a midnight dreary" from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven."
Does "Upon" always fit where "On" is used?
No, context and tone determine their interchangeability.
How is "Upon" used ceremonially?
It can appear in formal requests or commands, like "call upon."
In what context is "Upon" most distinguished from "On"?
"Upon" often emphasizes movement or a specific action.
Is "On" used for electronic devices?
Yes, like "on the radio" or "on the computer."
How does "On" function in phrasal verbs?
It pairs with verbs to create meanings, like "take on" or "put on."
Are both "On" and "Upon" prepositions?
Yes, both words function as prepositions in English.
Does "On" suggest engagement?
Yes, as in "She's on a call" or "The TV is on."
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