“Upon” is a formal word appropriate for formal occasions — e.g.: “Beneath his likeness sits a table upon [read ‘on’] which participants place the fabric after prostrating themselves three times.” Norine Dresser, “Southern California Voices,” L.A. Times, 8 Feb. 1997, at B7. But in most contexts “upon” is unnecessary in place of “on” — e.g.: “We can insist upon [read ‘on’] seat belts and obeying all road rules.” Letter of Donna R. Duppstadt, “Other Issues Omitted,” Patriot & Evening News (Harrisburg), 21 Sept. 1997, at B14.
Although some will argue that the two are interchangeable and the choice is just a question of euphony, rarely will “upon” prove more euphonious or natural. “On” is the shorter, simpler, and more direct preposition.
Yet “upon” is quite justifiable when the sense is “on the occasion of,” or “when (something) occurs” — e.g.:
o “Upon disembarking from their chartered plane and boarding the team bus on the tarmac, they proceeded to have a fender bender — with a 727.” “Major League Log,” Pitt. Post-Gaz., 17 July 1997, at D3.
o “Upon her return, she perused the leaderboard closely, finding she was still on top.” Michael Madden, “Harvey, Neumann on Top of Games,” Boston Globe, 19 Sept. 1997, at D1.
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Quotation of the Day:
“When people object . . . to idioms that their spouses use at the breakfast table, my reaction tends to be that forgiveness ought to be granted automatically for any lapse of grammar committed in a bathrobe, before the coffee is ready.” Barbara Wallraff, Word Court 59 (2000).