December 9, 2009
Language tips: although or though & upon or on
From CNN’s Political Ticker last week, discussing President Obama’s attendance at the George Washington-Oregon State basketball game (Obama’s brother-in-law is the Oregon State coach):
Robinson, who coaches the Oregon State Beavers, was cheered on by the President, who snacked on popcorn, the First Lady, Sasha, Malia and the girls’ grandmother Marian Robinson.
Well, I heard that Obama had a big appetite.
A quote from Hines Ward, for the Department of Redundancy Department:
Regarding whether or not he will play this weekend, he replied, “I don’t want to risk jeopardizing my career.”
Tip 1: Though or although
Though the experiment proved successful, it did not lead us in the direction we were hoping.
When I ran across this sentence recently, I was nonplussed. I knew that this wording bothered me, but I wasn’t sure why. Then it hit me-I would definitely have used the word ‘although’ in lieu of ‘though.’ But why? This musing led to this week’s first tip.
‘Though’ and ‘although’ both mean ‘despite the fact that.’ For the most part, they can be used interchangeably although only ‘though’ can be used as the last word in a sentence (as an adverb).
You are welcome to come for dinner; I’m not sure we have enough chairs, though. CORRECT
You are welcome to come for dinner; I’m not sure we have enough chairs, although. WRONG
You are welcome to come for dinner, although I’m not sure we have enough chairs. CORRECT
You are welcome to come for dinner, though I’m not sure we have enough chairs. CORRECT
Although I’m not sure we have enough chairs, you are welcome to come for dinner. CORRECT
Though I’m not sure we have enough chairs, you are welcome to come for dinner. CORRECT
So that first sentence I ran across is right then. Right? Well, technically, the sentence is correct, but the real difference between ‘though’ and ‘although’ is the degree of formality. ‘Though’ is very informal, and best saved for conversations and very informal writing. In our more formal writing, we should stick with the more formal ‘although.’ And that’s why the sentence above bugged me. I was reading a grant proposal where I expect to read formal writing, and the informal ‘though’ was jarring.
Tip 2: Upon or on
A reader writes:
I tend to use ‘upon’ a lot when I write, as in,
The outcome is dependent upon the participants’ responses.
I was wondering if this was okay or if I should use the simpler ‘on’ instead.
Good question, reader. When I started to research this, I found lots of disagreement about the usage of ‘on’ and ‘upon.’ I hate it when my favorite authorities disagree! But in this case, they do.
Bryson contends that the words are the same and can be used interchangeably. The OED agrees.
Fowler warns to not use ‘upon’ as what he disparagingly calls an elegant variation. He spends several pages, explaining what an elegant variation is, but I think his meaning is clear in his first sentence:
It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly, and still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to allurements of elegant variation.
Garner notes that ‘upon’ is a formal word and should only be used in formal situations or when used in the sense of ‘on the occasion of’ and that ‘on’ is the shorter, simpler, and more direct preposition.
The Bishop placed the crown upon the princess’s head, thus, anointing her Queen of the land. CORRECT. ‘Upon’ is used in its formal context. NOTE: We’re talking really formal, here.
Upon exiting the tunnel, the visitors were struck by the sight of the city appearing seemingly out of nowhere. CORRECT. ‘Upon” is used in the sense of ‘on the occasion of.’
Put your hat on (not upon) the table, and take a seat. CORRECT. ‘On’ is simple and direct.
So where do I come down on all this? I guess I would encourage the use of ‘on’ whenever it is appropriate. Why use two syllables when one will do? However, in the end, I depend on sound to tell me whether to use ‘upon’ or ‘on.’ I use whatever sounds best in a given situation.
So how do you decide?
This tip gives me an excuse to share, with you, one of my favorite poems:
The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams (ASIDE: WCW was a physician as well as poet.)
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white