Word Confusion: Up On versus Upon

Posted February 26, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 12 October 2017

This word confusion is simple and complex. Simple when it comes to the keeping abreast of up on. Complex when distinguishing between the adverbs of up on and upon as well as its prepositional version.

The adverb version of up on feels more actively physical while either upon is more passive. In some instances, it’s almost abstract.

Consider the following:
Mom, Johnny and Greg are ganging up on me!

Adverb as it modifies the ganging

That oak will reach 80- to 100-feet tall upon maturity.

Adverb as the tree’s reaching maturity is a specified point in time

You can’t just sneak up on us!

Adverb. It modifies the sneak

Fall is almost upon us, and I am looking forward to hot ciders and beefy thick stews.

Preposition with fall very close

Hang on, I gotta check up on my dogs.

Adjective as “I” is on a schedule or looking for information

I took it upon myself to make some coffee since you weren’t here.

Adverb, as the target of an action

One of these days, I am going to catch up on my rest!

Adverb, modifying catch

With her prayers, a sense of peace descended upon her, and she was content.

Preposition for the peace that arrived

What I find most useful in determining which to use, is to isolate the sentence with up on or upon in it. Then read over the examples, all of them. Check out the definitions. It helps. What can I say, this is a tricky one.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Up On Upon
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: up, upon; Wiktionary.com: upon

PDF for a DARPA Strategic Plan, May 2009

“DARPA Strategic Plan” by DARPA is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reading a DARPA plan seems a good way to keep up on developments.

Once Upon a Time WPA poster in red, yellow, white, and black

“Once Upon a Time WPA Poster, ca. 1938” by Kenneth Whitley is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Adjective; Adverb Compound Word

Adverb; Preposition
Well informed about


Being up to particular standard or level especially in being up to date in knowledge

Being on schedule

From a lower to a higher place or position

In a high position or place

Toward the sky or ceiling

[Obsolete] On the surface

Being the target of an action

Incidental to a specified point in time or order of action

  • Usually combined with here-, there-, or where-.
    • [Obsolete] Thereafter, thereon

Used to say that someone or something is very close or has arrived

Used to emphasize something that is repeated many times

He was up on the latest news.

Jamie was caught up on his homework.

The kids climbed up on the roof.

She hung a picture up on the wall.

He was set upon by the agitated dogs.

The clock struck noon, whereupon the students proceeded to lunch.

Once upon a time…

He carefully placed the vase upon the table.

She was seated upon a throne.

It was based upon two principles.

She was admitted to his office immediately upon her arrival.

Christmas is almost upon us.

That kind of behavior is frowned upon.

History of the Word:
Before 12th century 1 First known use: 12th century

Middle English

2 13th century

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Return to top

Pinterest Photo Credits

Page 3 of The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright (archive.org) is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.