8

What are you going to do for New Year's Eve?

and

I started worrying about what to do on New Year's Eve.

These are example sentences from Google Books. What is the difference between the use of for and on?

Is "to do something for New Year's Eve" fully synonymous with "to do something on New Year's Eve"?

4 Answers 4

8

These two sentences are very similar and there is only a subtle semantic difference between them. Most people probably wouldn't think twice at hearing either one in any circumstance.

'For' implies the actions being taken are caused by or in response to something (in this case, New Year's Eve). This emphasizes New Year's Eve as a special event, rather than just another day. You would use this to talk about things that happen specifically on account of or because of New Year.

'On' is how we generally refer to times and places (on that day, on top of the hill, etc). This puts less emphasis on New Year's Eve as a special day by referring to it just as you would any other day. You would probably use this to talk about things that could happen any day.

If I were telling someone about small details of my plans for the day, I would use 'on':

On New Year's Eve, I will wake up, eat breakfast, go for a walk and drink Champagne. (These are all things that could happen on any day, but they happen to be on New Year's Eve)

If I were telling someone about traditions and things that make the New Years holiday special, I would use 'for':

For New Year's Eve, I will get together with my friends and make resolutions to improve my life. (These are things that are done for the purpose of, or because of the New Year's Eve holiday)

7
  • 3
    Curiously, although the same nuanced difference applies to for Christmas, the "temporal" version there is at Christmas. But on and at are both "spatial/locational" metaphoric forms pressed into service as temporal references to a point in time. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 17:55
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I believe that would be in British usage; as an American I would only say on Christmas. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 20:57
  • @WinnieNicklaus The difference is that we would say at this time but on this day; so, it's roughly equivalent to saying at Christmas time. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 22:59
  • 1
    I (BrEng) would allow "at Christmas" but "on Christmas Day" as @WinnieNicklaus says the difference is that the latter is about a day not a time. The "Eve" of New Year's Eve functions in the same way. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 7:43
  • @WinnieNicklaus: Unless followed by another word (such as day, eve), at Christmas we {did something} is still the more common version, even in AmE. But you're right insofar as on Christmas does at least actually exist in AmE - whereas it's virtually unknown in BrE. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 15:22
5

What are you going to do anything special for New Year's Eve?

This is asking what you will do because of the holiday. This is often used to describe preparations or actions occuring because of the holiday.

I will make special cookies for New Year's Day.
Are you planning a party for New Year's Eve?

If you say:

What are you going to do on New Year's Eve?

you are specifically asking what you will be doing on that day.

I will go to that party on New Year's Eve.
We will have a special dinner on New Year's Eve.

1
  • 2
    The two questions could get different responses, and this answer does a good job of explaining why. What are you doing on New Year's Eve? Answer: "I'm working." Now, change that to, What are you doing for New Year's Eve? The new answer might be: "Nothing; I'm working". (You might add the word "nothing" to your answer to that latter question, because it's asking about how you are going to celebrate, not necessarily what you'll be doing on that day – and you won't be celebrating.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 19:24
4

When speaking about holidays, both on and for sound natural and are virtually synonymous.

What are you doing for [your celebration of] New Year's Eve?

What are you doing on [the day of] New Year's Eve?

When we're talking about normal days (not holidays), on is preferred, and for does not sound natural:

What are you doing on Saturday?

What are you doing for Saturday?

In the second case, the use of "for" suggests "for the celebration of", which suggests that the upcoming Saturday is a holiday. (If Saturday is New Year's Eve, or the day of my birthday party, or some other special occasion, then "for Saturday" would be correct.)

1
  • Oh, that's why for is used! There's the implied "celerbation of". And I was wondering.. Thanks, apsillers!. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 15:14
1

In India, we have Diwali holidays. Take a note that there are 'holidayS' and not a holiday. We often ask each other...

What is your plan for Diwali ~ I think I'll visit my hometown. I may then plan for good shopping.

On the other hand,

What is your plan on Diwali ~ I'll be at home celebrating with my family.

Taking a sensible note from this, I can say that 'something for some festival' talks about the 'event' as a whole and 'something on festival day' talks more about the activity on that particular day. So, understanding the nuance of something for festival and something on festival day clarifies the matter.

1
  • 1
    Last line clears the concept. No need to read anything else.
    – Rucheer M
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 5:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .