OALD and MacMillan give several examples in the entry of "on":

On arriving home I discovered they had gone.

On being made aware of complaints, he informed the committee.

They exchanged a firm handshake on parting.

I would think "on" is not necessary in these examples. If they were omitted, it would make no difference.(except for the last one, "parting" would be placed at the beginning.) Does this word add any meaning?

Can you pay, I don't seem to have any money on me.

Have you got your passport on you?

Can I replace these two "on" with "with"?


In the first sentences, you can replace on with upon, essentially meaning at the time that. These three sentences have the same basic meaning:

On arriving home, I discovered they had gone.

Upon arriving home, I discovered they had gone.

When I arrived home, I discovered they had gone.

The on doesn't change the meaning, per se; if you left it out the same events would be understood to have happened. You arrived home, and at that time they had gone. But it does add emphasis. You're emphasizing the time at which the event happened, not the event itself.

Arriving home, I discovered they had gone.

Emphasis is on the discovery: the important thing is that I discovered they had gone, and the fact that it happened when I arrived home is additional information.

On arriving home, I discovered they had gone.

Emphasis is on when I made the discovery; at the time I arrived home, this is what I discovered.

It's a subtle difference, but I think it's there.

As for the second usage of on, yes, you can replace it with with in those specific examples and have the same meaning. On there is short for on your person; if you search the things you have with you, are you going to find money? If so, you have money "on" you. I'd say on is more casual and common, though.

  • Thx. You are not around for quite a time. So "with you" isn't necessarily "on you". Maybe it's in your suitcase you are carrying, right?
    – Kinzle B
    Apr 19 '14 at 15:53
  • Yeah, my computer was broken so I was modding behind the scenes from my phone; not much time to answer! I'm glad to be back. Yeah, there's a subtle difference there; I think you've got it right. Now if someone said "on you" and the money was in my suitcase, I would still give it to them... But I do think that there is a distinction from the asking point-of-view.
    – WendiKidd
    Apr 19 '14 at 16:14

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