“On” vs “Upon”: Main Differences & How to Use Both Correctly as a Writer

If I ask you the difference between on and upon, there is a tendency you will say they mean the same thing.

Extend this hand of fellowship to your friend, they may say there is a difference.

So, who is right? You or your friend? Is there any difference between these two terms? Do we use on or upon?

We have answered all these and more in this article.

On vs Upon

Most of the time, on is used as a preposition or adverb.

As a preposition, on indicates that something is in contact with or supported by something else.


Joy is sitting on my lap.

You can also use on as a preposition to talk about how one thing is different from another.


  • Joy had a cap on her head.  
  • The bee sting left marks on her arm.
  • When on is used as an adverb, there are a couple of meanings.

First “on” indicates that something is in physical contact with another.

For example,

Joy is sitting on my lap.

Secondly, it can mean the continuation of an action.

An example is the old saying; Keep on keeping on.

Read this: Steel vs steal


Similarly, Upon is used both as an adverb and a preposition although it is mostly used as a preposition.

The definitions of upon are the same as on.

For example;

Joy can either be sitting upon my lap or upon the couch.

What Is The Main Difference – Upon vs on?

On‘ and ‘upon‘ have the same meaning. They both mean something is in an elevated position. The only difference is that upon is more formal in use than on. Upon sounds more formal and is used in formal writing.  

Particularly, upon is used in stories to show a time past like in the popular “once upon a time” tale

‘Apart from this, one can easily swap both these words without worrying about changing the meaning or making an incorrect sentence

Using on as a preposition indicates direct contact of the object with the thing where it is placed.

For example,

The boy lay on the couch.

This shows direct contact; the boy is directly placed on the bed.

See also: When to Use “Passed” vs “Past”: Definitions and Examples


On is the more common option in the duo on vs upon. It is used to show that something is at a level higher than another.

For example;

  • I asked her to place her bags on the shelf.
  • They made sure everything was showcased on the glass table.


Upon shows that something is at a level higher than another.

It is seen in formal texts and stories.


  • She depends on her boyfriend for help.
  • She depends upon her boyfriend for help.

Hack to Remember

You can interchange upon and on when they mean something being higher than another.

Also, there are times when they are used in sentences to have differing meanings. In this case, upon is used to indicate a ‘time past’ or “at the time of.’


  • She jumped upon seeing her boyfriend.
  • Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl who lived with her granny.

Examples of Upon vs On

In these examples, they can be used interchangeably.

  • Kick the wool on the roof.
  • Kick the wool upon the roof.
  • Throw on the lawn.
  • Throw upon the lawn.
  • He had a cut on the roof of his teeth.
  • He had a cut upon the roof of his teeth.

See also: “Sew” vs “Sow”: Main Differences & How to Use Both Correctly as a Writer


Both the words ‘on’ and ‘upon’ are synonymous and can be used interchangeably.

Lastly, remember to understand the sentence’s context before using these two prepositions.