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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > VIKRAL ´on ´ and ´upon ´ AGAIN    

VIKRAL ´on ´ and ´upon ´ AGAIN

United Kingdom

VIKRAL ´on ´ and ´upon ´ AGAIN

Dear Vikral,

I cannot see your Post on the Forum, so I am reposting it.


Your question was:

“Hi.  Can you please tell me the difference in the use of prepositions ´on ´ and ´upon ´? Thanks in advance. Have a nice day”.

In “A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language”, Professors Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, Svartvik, and Crystal use 63 pages to explain Prepositions, apart from numerous other references.

On pages 665-667 they discuss 72 common prepositions with their uses.

‘On’ reads Space; Time Position; Target; Means and Instrument; Respect; Subject Matter.

‘Upon’ reads: [formal] (see ‘on’ above).

‘In’ reads Space; Time Position; Measurement into the Future.

‘Into’ reads Space; Movement.

Here is a diagram of some of these prepositions, on Page 674.



These two prepositions, ‘on’ and ‘upon’, are not equally interchangeable.  Why?  Because ‘on’ is informal and ‘upon’ is formal.  Because of the above diagram.  Because of the above note.

The general meaning of both words is the same, but they are used differently, so they are not interchangeable.  In general terms, the first is used informally; the second is used only in formal speech and writing.

The “Oxford Dictionary of English” gives:

UPON: preposition - more formal term for ON especially in abstract senses: ‘it was based upon two principles’; ‘a school’s dependence upon parental support’.
USAGE: The preposition UPON has the same core meaning as the preposition ON.  However, in modern English upon tends to be restricted to more formal contexts or to established phrases and idioms, as in ‘once upon a time’ and ‘row upon row of seats’.

Although it wasn’t part of your question, the two prepositions, ‘in’ and ‘into’, are also not equally interchangeable.  ‘In’ has 3 uses; ‘into’ has only 2 uses.  The diagram above shows that ‘in’ and ‘into’ are interchangeable only in relation to Destination, but not Position.

Language is a means of communication --- a way of passing information from person ‘A’ to person ‘B’.  There is a variety of methods of conveying the information, but there is no ‘correct’ way of doing this.  The important factor is that ‘B’ correctly receives the message sent by ‘A’.  The route is almost irrelevant.

The choice of prepositions in a language, (almost all languages), is not easy.  Their use is not usually dependent on one simple rule which covers every situation.

Because English is a fusion of several languages, each with its own rules of spelling, pronunciation, etc. it causes certain problems in learning English.  Moreover, there is not one English language, there are several --- British English, Australian English, Indian English, American English, etc.  That is why I sometimes find myself uncomfortable when Teachers say: This is correct, but that is incorrect”.

Whether something is ‘correct’ or not, depends on so many unknown factors!

“Tell me Vikral, what is the correct way to travel from London to Delhi?”

Unless I specify certain conditions, such as price, distance, time, etc. my question, which requires a correct answer, is meaningless and, therefore, stupid.

You, Vickral, would have to begin your answer with: “It all depends on what you mean by ‘correct’.  If you mean ‘cheapest’ then --- first, take a bus to London Underground, and then ... “

When there is a grammar question on the Forum, is the questioner asking about everyday speech?  Does he/she want to hear what ordinary people say?  Is it a question about the speech that many people use, ungrammatically, on many occasions during their lifetime?  

(Knock, knock).  “Who’s that?”  “It’s me”.

Or does he/she want a ‘grammatically correct answer’?  Must the answer be in accordance with the Model Answers in the “XYZ Book of Grammar” which has been specified to be used by the Examination Board?

(Knock, knock).  “Who is that?”  “It is I”.  (“Because I am at the door”).

In the ‘correct’ situation, they are both ‘correct’.

When I answer a question, I try to remember that not all Members of ESLP have the same advanced academic knowledge that others, more fortunate, have.  Nor have they access to reference material – dictionaries, grammar books, etc.  Many Teachers work in extremely difficult situations.

Thank you for making your question so clear.

I hope that I have been able to help you.


17 Apr 2011      

United States

Les , I would like to thank you. Whenever you help someone on this site you are extremely thoughtful and thorough. Again a heart felt thanks. Ed

18 Apr 2011     

Saudi Arabia

I am really impressed by your excellent post!

18 Apr 2011     


Yep!!! I do love when you two answer the posts!!! I really trust in you!!! Good to hear from you, Les!!! Big hug guys............

18 Apr 2011     


Thank you Les, you have answered the question thouroughly and we all have an interesting information from you. A wealth of thanks

18 Apr 2011