Postpone vs delay

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Anushka Athukorala

Senior Member
Sinhalese
Dear Members
I would like to know if these two words are synonymous.
Can I use them with the exact meaning in the following contexts?
A. They decided to postpone their wedding till next year.
B. They decided to delay their wedding till next year.

C. The match has been postponed because of rain.
D. The match has been delayed because of rain.

Thanks in advance
 
  • USMeg

    Senior Member
    English/USA
    The difference between these two verbs is subtle. merriam-webster.com offers these usage notes:
    POSTPONE implies an intentional deferring usually to a definite time.
    // the game is postponed until Saturday //
    DELAY implies a holding back, usually by interference, from completion or arrival.
    // bad weather delayed our arrival //


    So your sentence A is better than B, because of the "definite time" given.
    D is good, and C is okay if it is followed by a statement of the new scheduled time, e.g., It is now scheduled for Tuesday evening.
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    :thumbsup:
    "The match has been delayed because of rain" usually means that the match will be resumed once the rain stops and the field is ready. "The match has been postponed because of rain" says to me that it will not be played until some future date.
     

    Anushka Athukorala

    Senior Member
    Sinhalese
    The difference between these two verbs is subtle. merriam-webster.com offers these usage notes:
    POSTPONE implies an intentional deferring usually to a definite time.
    // the game is postponed until Saturday //
    DELAY implies a holding back, usually by interference, from completion or arrival.
    // bad weather delayed our arrival //


    So your sentence A is better than B, because of the "definite time" given.
    D is good, and C is okay if it is followed by a statement of the new scheduled time, e.g., It is now scheduled for Tuesday evening.
    Hello USMeg/srk

    Thank you for both of your explanations. However if you read these definitions in Cambridge Dictionary it will make you confused.

    postpone
    verb [ T ]
    UK /pəʊstˈpəʊn/ /pəstˈpəʊn/ US /poʊstˈpoʊn/

    B1
    to delay an event and plan or decide that it should happen at a later date or time:
    They decided to postpone their holiday until next year.
    [ + -ing verb ] We've had to postpone going to France because the children are ill.

    delay
    verb
    UK /dɪˈleɪ/ US /dɪˈleɪ/

    A2 [ I or T ]
    to make something happen at a later time than originally planned or expected:
    A. My plane was delayed by an hour.
    B. Heavy snow delayed the start of the game.
    C.[ + -ing verb ] I think we should delay deciding about this until next year.
    In delay's example A and B involve some interference but C is quite similar to Postpone's examples. So it seems to me that these two words are very confusing aren't they?
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I don't see any real difference between (A) and (B): the meanings are so similar there as to be interchangeable.

    The distinction, for me, with the other pair is that (C) means that the match will now be played at a later date, whereas in (D) it could resume once the rain has stopped.

    As with a lot of similar apparently synonymous words, it's the context which makes the difference in how you use them: you can't rely on just a dictionary definition alone. ;)
     

    Anushka Athukorala

    Senior Member
    Sinhalese
    Hello DonnyB/tunaafi
    Thank you very much for your answers. I guess I understand the difference now. I made the example sentences below to know if I have understood the difference right.
    Context 1 - delay being similar to postpone
    A. They keep postponing paying the bills.
    B. They keep delay paying the bills.
    C. Why do you want to delay the opening of the building till next year?
    D. Why do you want to postpone the opening of the building till next year?
    Do you think using "delay" and " postpone" interchangeably in the context above sound natural to you?

    Context 2- delay is being different from postpone and referring to some obstruction.
    A. The election was delayed till next month because of bomb attacks.
    B. I was delayed by the storm.
    C. The bad weather delayed all the flights.
    However I feel that I can use " postpone" in A with the same meaning to "delay".
     

    USMeg

    Senior Member
    English/USA
    As I look at all these examples, a pattern emerges: people postpone; things delay.
    Paying bills would be postponed. (Though I would put off paying my bills.)
    Flights are delayed by weather. Arrivals are delayed by unexpected events.
    An election could be delayed by bomb attacks. It might be postponed to the following month as a result.
    Similarly, construction problems could cause delays in a project's schedule, resulting in a need to postpone an opening.
    If there is an "until" specification, use postpone.
    I'm sure this doesn't work in all cases, but these are the rules I have "reverse-engineered" from dictionary definitions and my own usage.
     

    Anushka Athukorala

    Senior Member
    Sinhalese
    As I look at all these examples, a pattern emerges: people postpone; things delay.
    Paying bills would be postponed. (Though I would put off paying my bills.)
    Flights are delayed by weather. Arrivals are delayed by unexpected events.
    An election could be delayed by bomb attacks. It might be postponed to the following month as a result.
    Similarly, construction problems could cause delays in a project's schedule, resulting in a need to postpone an opening.
    If there is an "until" specification, use postpone.
    I'm sure this doesn't work in all cases, but these are the rules I have "reverse-engineered" from dictionary definitions and my own usage.
    Hello USmeg
    Thank you very much for your well explained answer and mentioning that "untill" is the most suitable preposition with postpone and what about delay? Does "till" or "until" go with it ?
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    postpone is the most suitable verb if you are going to say until a specified date or time.
    I agree. When a match is delayed due to rain, it means it's likely to start once the rain stops. The exact time won't be known till the rain actually stops. If it's postponed, it implies that there's a definite date/time that the organisers/players have in mind.

    A. They decided to postpone their wedding till next year.
    I'd use "to" rather than "till" here. "Till" is fine in sentence B however.
     
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