To wait for/ to wait on

Elle Paris

Senior Member
American English
I have always taught that to wait for was to spend time waiting and hoping or expecting that something or somebody will arrive... and that
to wait on is to serve somebody by bringing what is needed and by taking away what is not needed or wanted.

Examples; The waitress/waiter/server waits on people at the restaurant (by bringing the menu, drinks and food).
The customers wait for the waiter to bring the menu so that they can choose what they want to eat.

When patients are bedridden, they stay in bed and wait for a nurse or assistant to wait on them.

In a shoe shop, the sales person waits on the customer by bring different shoes of different sizes until the customer has chosen. Sometimes the customer waits a long time for a sales person.



The question is: Have the two expressions merged?
 
  • Elle Paris

    Senior Member
    American English
    OK, I read it and I still don't know if it has become officially correct or if it is only widespread in certain areas. Has ''to wait on '' become considered as a nuance of "to wait for" officially?
    I did notice that my "serve" definition is more exact for to wait on.
    A person can have many employees who serve: Chauffeur, gardener, cook, maid, bodyguard, butler, pool guy, personal trainer, nanny, secretary and life coach.
    Only two or three wait on their employer.
     
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    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I have always taught that to wait for was to spend time waiting and hoping or expecting that something or somebody will arrive... and that
    to wait on is to serve somebody . . .

    Examples:

    The waitress/waiter/server waits on people at the restaurant . . . .

    The customers wait for the waiter to bring the menu . . .

    In a shoe shop, the sales person waits on the customer . . . Sometimes the customer waits a long time for a sales person.

    The question is: Have the two expressions merged?
    No, they haven't. If you have seen, or heard of, a server waiting "for" diners, or customers waiting "on" a salesperson to show up--those usages are incorrect.
     

    Elle Paris

    Senior Member
    American English
    No, they haven't. If you have seen, or heard of, a server waiting "for" diners, or customers waiting "on" a salesperson to show up--those usages are incorrect.
    It seems that some of the posts here say that a customer can say:
    "I am waiting on somebody to help me with my choice".
    I wouldn't, but am I understanding correctly?
     

    Imber Ranae

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    "Wait on/upon the Lord" is used quite frequently in the Authorised (King James) Version of the Psalms with the meaning of relying upon or trusting in God patiently, and this is still used in religious contexts.

    I've never heard "wait on" as an exact equivalent of "wait for", though I have heard people say things like "I'm waiting on the weather," meaning they are watching for the weather to become suitable for some task. I've even heard "waiting on" used with an indirect question as the equivalent of "waiting to see if", e.g. "They're waiting on whether the money order goes through".
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Here in the United States, much of our language, or perhaps the colloquial variant thereof, comes from the way immigrants spoke when translating their language to English. (I went to grade school in Chicago, shortly after WWII with a large number of children from immigrant families)

    The United States, at that time as well as previously, had an influx of immigrants from German-speaking countries and the language those immigrants used reflected literal translation of their native idioms.

    The German verb "aufwarten" is literally translated as "wait on" (transitive) or "wait up" (intransitive) but idiomatically it means "wait for" or just "wait."

    I believe that this is the source of the "wait on me" issue, i.e. "wait for me." (And it's not the only example of this phenomenon)
     
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    Elle Paris

    Senior Member
    American English
    It would be really more helpful to have more examples.

    I agree that English in different regions evolves differently. The question is: Where does one draw the line?
    Now do we have as many Englishes as English speaking countries, plus those countries whosepeople who speak it as a second language?

    Moreover, if we go by what is said by the majority we could end up with,
    "If I would have knowed, I would have went that way because the map ain't right, so I waited on the bus in the wrong venue."
     
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    JustKate

    Senior Member
    Wait on is very widespread. I hear it all the time here in the Midwest and I heard it growing up in Southern California, too. I would hesitate (and hesitate a long time) before characterizing it as "rural," "Southern" or "less educated." It's far too widespread to allow for such characterizations.
     
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