The following genuine examples are taken from Google Books:

She had left him nothing on her death except for her earlier gift of Twickenham Hall and its eighty acres of parkland, against which he had heavy debts.

He had no children, and his nephew was proclaimed throughout his dominions, and ruled them for six years. On his death there was a general scramble for power between the governors of the different provinces.

If the husband left his entire estate to his wife, there would be no estate tax at his death since his estate passed to a surviving spouse.

As he develops this theme we begin to learn what he takes a "true philosopher" to be, and what he thinks is actually going to happen to him at his death.

I was wondering if the two phrases were interchangeable in these examples. Is there any discernible difference between them?

1 Answer 1


In your examples, I think that the use of on is a "shortened" version of:

on the occasion of his death

while the use of at is a "shortened" version of:

at the time of his death

Because those two events are inexorably intertwined, there is only a subtle difference in meaning between the two.

I don't think the two are quite interchangeable, but not so much because of a difference in meaning. It's more a matter of context and convention.

  • In the provided examples, how does the context prefer one over the other?
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 23:50
  • #1 is not so much concerned with time as occasion or event. #3 is talking about time (not so much time of day, but at the time of some event). It's very subtle and hard to explain; maybe someone else can do a better job than me.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 0:29

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