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While conversing with my friend I got confused between these two sentences:

It depends upon the context.

It depends on context.

Which one is more apt in usage and why?

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  • Sud, I would use "on", not "upon", because my book says that "depend" preferably takes "on" and because "upon" is justifiable when something occurs. However, according to other theories, you should use "from", not "on" nor "upon". But I cannot post an answer because I'm sure natives can say a lot of things on this matter :)
    – user114
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 19:56
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    @Carlo_R.: I don't think we'd say, "It depends from context." From has a lot of meanings and usages, but that's not one of them.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 21:48
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    @J.R. Well, icicles depend from eaves . . . Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 22:40

5 Answers 5

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On is a preposition unbounded by time. upon is a preposition that is bounded by time:

  1. On arrival at the station he should buy a sandwich - NB there is no time/date specified.

  2. Upon arrival he bought a sandwich - NB it is still a preposition, but we know the event has occurred, and hence that it was bounded by time.

There is a clear difference.

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On and upon can be used interchangeably here. Both of the following sentences are correct:

It depends on context.

It depends upon context.

Both of these sentences mean that, in general, whatever "it" refers to will change based on whatever context it is in.

You add the when you're being more specific about what that context is:

It depends on the context of the situation.

It depends upon the context of the situation.

In this case we have specified which context (the context of the situation) so it requires the article.

In practice, all four sentences mean the same thing. Personally I'd be more likely to use the general "It depends on context" and the specific "It depends upon the context [insert description here]", but that's just personal use. Any of the above are perfectly acceptable.

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Both are valid, however as can be seen by the following Ngram, depends on context is much more commonly used in modern English than depends upon context, since about 1960:

Google ngram for depends on context versus depends upon context

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  • where can I generate these graphs? Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 7:11
  • @BlackJack21 it's called 'google ngram viewer' Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 21:16
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On is more formal than upon, and the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English show it is more frequently used than upon in both British and American English. However, the difference in frequency is much greater in American English than in British English.

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where there is no action, we use "on" where there is an action we use upon for example The duster is on the table Bring the duster and keep it upon the table.

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