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Officials are waiting on autopsy results for Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. New York police suspect a drug overdose, possibly heroin.

I am curious about the preposition on in the sentence, because I usually say "wait for" instead of "wait on". Does it still have the same meaning if I change on to for? Just as follows:

Officials are waiting for autopsy results for Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. New York police suspect a drug overdose, possibly heroin.

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Zzyrk's answer is correct, but there is an additional nuance in play here.

Officials are waiting on autopsy results.

To me, this implies that the officials need to receive the autopsy results because the results will allow them to continue their work. The autopsy results are key to the next step in their process, and they cannot continue until they have received them.

Officials are waiting for autopsy results.

This sentence brings to mind an image of some police officers standing outside the morgue waiting for the medical examiner to bring them the autopsy results. It is an activity or a job: their current status or task is "waiting for the results", while the rest of the officials are doing other things.

In this case, "waiting on" implies more that the results are necessary to the rest of the investigation, and the officials can't make any more progress without them. "Waiting for" implies that the officials need the results and will find them important, but they aren't prevented from doing other work until the autopsy results arrive.

  • I agree, but this question seems even trickier than that. Consider: I am waiting on/for the bus, or We are waiting on/for an update. I'm not sure if there's a hard-and-fast rule where I'd coach someone to say it one way instead of another, depending on the situation. The use of on does seem more specialized, though. I have an easier time thinking of examples when I'd exchange for in place of on, as opposed to contexts where I'd exchange on in place of to. – J.R. Feb 5 '14 at 15:22
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Wait for has the general meaning of anticipate/expect something to happen, for example: 1. wait for a bus 2. wait for the rain to stop before going out 3. wait for a letter to arrive.

Wait on is in a way serve/act as servant. In a restaurant a waiter obviously waits on the customers. Wait on is also used, mostly in American English, as an alternative to wait for, as in: We sent a letter and are waiting on their reply.

I believe changing on to for in your sentence won't change the meaning of it.

  • Zzyrk, it seems to be much more common in American English. In the UK, people just say wait for. – Tristan Feb 5 '14 at 14:20
  • @Tristan: In the U.S., I think most people usually say "wait for" as well. "Wait on" – when used to mean "wait for" – seems to be used in more formal contexts. – J.R. Feb 5 '14 at 14:23
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    In my experience, "wait on" is a midwestern American colloquialism that replaces "wait for". My experience is that my mother was an English professor who grew up in the Boston area, and we grew up in Indiana. My sixth grade schoolteacher (among others) always said "wait on" (I heard "Bob, we're waiting on you" fairly regularly) and my mother would correct me to "wait for" if I said "wait on". – BobRodes Feb 5 '14 at 15:06
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You wait for something to happen, but wait on someone if you're a waiter/waitress. The vast majority of Americans do not understand this, since the vast majority have not been properly schooled, and so use 'on' when the correct preposition should be 'for'.

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