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Which one of these sentences is correct, or is either of them correct?

I eat three tablespoons of molasses at most on a day.

I eat three tablespoons of molasses at most in a day.

Context: On a given day, the speaker doesn’t eat more than three tablespoons of it if he prefers to eat molasses that day. I am asking this because I am familiar with the idiomatic usage of “in one day,” but “in a day” sounded sort of off to me. Is “on a day” the only correct usage here?

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    "on a day" is the only incorrect usage here. Most native speakers would probably use "per day," but you can also use "in one day". Alternatively, you can restructure the sentence so it sounds more natural, like "I don't eat more than three tablespoons of molasses in one day"
    – Esther
    May 9 at 14:27
  • Yes, per day or in a day or in one day.
    – Lambie
    May 9 at 14:39

1 Answer 1

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The first example:

I eat three tablespoons of molasses at most on a day. Red X indicating an incorrect or unnatural form

is not correct. Indeed the word sequence "on a day" is somewhat unusual, and is never used in a construction like this example. One might write:

  • On a day marked by storms, Jane left home. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form
  • On a day that would be long remembered, Japan attacked the US. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form
  • I never know what I should do on a day like that. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form

None of these is very similar to the initial example. The intended meaning might be conveyed by:

  • I eat three tablespoons of molasses at most in a day. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form
  • I eat at most three tablespoons of molasses in a day. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form
  • I eat at most three tablespoons of molasses a day. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form
  • I eat at most three tablespoons of molasses per day. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form
  • I eat at most three tablespoons of molasses each day. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form
  • I eat at most three tablespoons of molasses on any given day. Green check-mark, indicting an acceptable form

Of these, perhaps the third ("a day") would be most commonly used.

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