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Tell me please the difference between the following sentences.

February 11 was really hectic, so I had to do a ton on the day.

February 11 was really hectic, so I had to do a ton in the day.

February 11 was really hectic, so I had to do a ton during the day.

I am are that "in the day" may mean a specific stretch of time of 24 hours, and "on the day" may mean a specific date. But don't they basically mean the same in my sentences?

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None of these is something a fluent speaker would be likely to say.

The most likely way to express the idea would be, "February 11 was really hectic, so I had to do a ton of work that day."

"During the day" is usually used when contrasting with "night". Like, "I work during the day and spend the nights resting."

"In the day" is a somewhat informal way of referring to past times. Like, "In the days of the French Revolution ..." Or when an older person is talking about his youth, he might say "Yes, back in the day, we used to ..." It can also be used, like "during the day", to contrast with night. Like, "In the day the spotted fwacbar bird sleeps, and it hunts at night."

"On the day" can be used to emphasize that something happened or will happen on a particular day. "On the day that my brother died, I was living in Kansas ..." This might be close to what you were trying to say above, but your wording is not idiomatic.

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  • Excellent answer. The only thing I'd add would be a reference to "on the day"'s idiomatic use around future events. An engaged couple telling the wedding party that "The rehearsal is on the day" makes sense contextually while omitting "of the wedding." – Dallium Feb 13 at 0:52
  • @Dallium Fair enough. A more complete answer would include "truncated" sentences, I mean, sentences where words are left out as assumed. – Jay Feb 13 at 15:33
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don't they basically mean the same in my sentences?

In a loose sense, yes, but they have subtly different connotations.

February 11 was really hectic, so I had to do a ton on the day.

This (potentially) implies / emphasises that you had much to do on that day, as opposed to stuff you could have done beforehand. Example: "the product launch was such a last-minute effort, we had so much to do on the day"

February 11 was really hectic, so I had to do a ton in the day.

This (potentially) implies / emphasises you had to do your stuff in the day as opposed to in the evening or night.

February 11 was really hectic, so I had to do a ton during the day.

This (potentially) implies / emphasises that you were busy throughout the (whole) day rather than having a short burst of activity.

Besides these nuances, I would tend to agree with @Jay that none of them sound natural. The main problem in my opinion is that the "so" construction is backwards. You didn't have a ton to do as a result of February 11 being hectic. You deemed February 11 to be "hectic" as a result of you having a ton to do.

Therefore, from a formal written grammar perspective, I would expect something like "February 11 was really hectic, since/as/because..." instead of so. In everyday speech, there would probably be no word there at all, just a comma or semicolon.

In terms of naturally idiomatic speech, I would also probably replace on/in/during with that. Finally, I would probably rearrange the words a little further, and end up with

February 11 was really hectic, I had tons to do that day.

Although at this point it is probably getting very subjective (according to Br.Eng / Am.Eng etc) which is the most "natural" phrasing.

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