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#1
Old 10-20-2011, 12:59 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
Posts: 18,894
"On" versus "Upon" -- Usage question

Title kinda says it all.

I Googled it and did not find anything authoritative I was willing to rely on.

An example of the question (taken from my Google search) would be:

The story is based UPON the author's life.

OR

The Story is based ON the author's life.


Is there some rule for this usage?
#2
Old 10-20-2011, 01:19 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Bigfork, Montana
Posts: 4,160
When I write I tend to follow the rule outlined here

Most sources tend to agree that you should use “upon” sparingly and usually just for literary effect. In other words, the “trap” in this Grammar Trap isn’t so much one of proper vs. improper use, but of readability vs. verbosity.

On or upon?

Example: I rely upon my friends to move my furniture.

OK, “upon” isn’t incorrect, but it’s overkill since “on” works better. Using “upon” here is the equivalent of using an archaic (and overly florid) form of address — “Thou art wise to avoid using such execrable prepositions” instead of “It’s a good idea to avoid ‘upon.’”

Up on or upon?

Example: I put my dusty old books up on the shelf.

Even when “up” and “on” go together like this, I would stick to two words to avoid the archaic usage.

Use literary effect sparingly. I don’t serve up purple prose to describe spraying for ants, so I would avoid writing, “Spray thy chemical products forthwith upon the preying myrmidons.” I would be more direct, “Spray the product directly on the ants.”

When is the effect appropriate? When you’re borrowing a phrase (like the “placed upon a pedestal”) or you really want to provide some archaic effect. But if your plan is to write in this century, stick with “on” rather than “upon” in most cases.
#3
Old 10-20-2011, 01:51 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dolphinboy View Post
“Spray thy chemical products forthwith upon the preying myrmidons.”
Whoever makes Raid should pay you for that.

And thanks for the overall reply too.
#4
Old 10-20-2011, 01:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dolphinboy View Post
Example: I put my dusty old books up on the shelf.
I love the "purple prose" example.

To me, putting my dusty old books up on the shelf sounds like the shelf is above head height. Putting my dusty old books upon the shelf sounds more like it's a lower shelf. Putting my dusty old books on the shelf could be used in either case.

That's just the way it flows to my ears.
#5
Old 10-20-2011, 03:00 PM
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Location: Maryland, US
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dolphinboy View Post
Use literary effect sparingly. I don’t serve up purple prose to describe spraying for ants ...
Well of course not. You'd use poetry for things like that.

I met a traveller in an antique land
Who said 'Six vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert
And on the pedestal these words appear
My name is Ozymandias, King of Ants
Look on my feelers, termites, and despair!
I am the biggest ant you'll ever see
The ants of old weren't half as bold
And big and fierce as me'.
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