wait for / wait on

SwissPete

Senior Member
Français (CH), AE (California)
I always thought that wait for is used in She is waiting for him to arrive, and wait on is used in The server is waiting on a party of six. Yet I hear I am waiting on him used by people who are obviously not servers in a restaurant! What's the rule?
Thanks.
 
  • Caroline89

    Member
    England, English
    I've never heard "wait on" used in any other context- always when talking about being served (usually at a restaurant). Perhaps you could "wait upon" someone, as in to call upon sb (formally). Wait for conformation though, as this may be incorrect.
     

    LouisaB

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Caroline is right - in BE you can 'wait on' someone, just by paying them a formal call. This is, however, very old-fashioned indeed, and I don't think I've heard it said 'for real' myself.

    However, I too have heard 'waiting on' used where 'waiting for' would be more usual. Eg -

    'What's the hold up?'
    'We're waiting on one more person'.

    'Does he know what career he's going to follow?'
    'No, he's waiting on his results'.

    The sense seems to be 'waiting for x before y can happen'.

    I don't use it myself, as it seems to me 'waiting for' can do the job just as well, but I agree I've heard it, and I think it's increasingly common.

    You don't give any context for where you've heard it, SwissPete. Was it something along those lines?

    Louisa
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    "Wait on" used to mean "wait for" is is commonly heard as a regionalism in America, especially in the south, although the usage seems to be spreading. Despite the increasing popularity of the phrase, it is in fact not correct. A waiter in a restaurant waits on tables. All those people at the bus stop, however, are (precisely as you had thought) waiting for the bus, and not on it.
     

    Caroline89

    Member
    England, English
    Obviously if you are waiting somewhere eg. station platform you would "wait on the platform" but I don't think this is what you meant!
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    "Wait on" used to mean "wait for" is is commonly heard as a regionalism in America, especially in the south, although the usage seems to be spreading. Despite the increasing popularity of the phrase, it is in fact not correct. A waiter in a restaurant waits on tables. All those people at the bus stop, however, are (precisely as you had thought) waiting for the bus, and not on it.
    Wait on is commonly heard here too. We assume it is an informal usage, a careless alternative to wait for. But the OED notes this as an alternative to wait for without any critical comment.
     

    SwissPete

    Senior Member
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    Your comments, as well as those in the link supplied by river in post 6, were most helpful. Thanks to all.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ...which suggests that the folks at the OED have namby-pamby tolerationist tendencies, to which I say "harrumph!" ;)
    I would echo your harumph, except that the folks at OED have noted this usage in a variety of sources since 1694.
    Still, just becaue it's been used since 1694 doesn't make it sound right :p
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I'll do a triple echo: LouisaB in post #3, GWB in post #4, and all those who say "Harrumph!" to the OED.

    I first heard it in Baltimore in the late 1960s, from people with little formal education. Since then, I am sad to report, it has spread to those who can read without moving their lips.

    This curmudgeon prefers to wait for the bus.
     
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