wait on/wait for

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Idioteque

Senior Member
Italy - Italian
Hello everyone! :)
I only wanted to know if there's a difference between these two verbs or if they're interchangeable...
I would be grateful if you would reply... ;)

Thanks a lot in advance!

Laura
 
  • foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    "Wait on" means to attend or serve.

    "Wait for" means to bide your time for someone or something, to expect.

    "Call the waiter over, why don't you? My water needs a refill."
    "He looks awful busy-- why don't we wait for him to finish serving up that tray full of orders?"
    "It's his job to wait on us."
    "Yeah, but he can't be in two places at the same time."
    .
     
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    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    "Wait on" meaning "wait for" is very common in UK.

    Here's a quote via the BBC from a Belfast woman:
    "Because we have house insurance, we have to wait on cleaners and on loss adjusters to come out to decide whether to destroy our furniture," she said.

    I've had people in the UK say "Will you wait on?" meaning "Will you hold the line?"
     

    ElaineG

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    I've never said "wait on" to mean "wait for", but it shows up in several songs: the Rolling Stones also sing "I'm not waitin' on a lady, I'm just waitin' on a friend," to mean waiting for. And there's also an old Van Morrison song that says "wait on me baby, I can't keep up" (again obviously "wait for"), so it's either a purely musical variant or there's some version of English where it's used. Lyric English?
     

    Sabelotodo

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Both "wait for" and "wait on" are interchangable in the context of the Madonna song you quoted. Both are used with equal frequency in my experience.

    "Wait on" has the additional meaning of "to serve" as a waiter, servant, etc. would do.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    "To wait on" in the sense of "to wait for" is not real common in AE, but it does exist. It works nicely in the Madonna lyric because in the context of man-woman relationship dynamics "wait on" works as an iteration of "wait for," but also carries the secondary meaning on another level. It could be she is shifting meanings, and the iteration is musical (one of sound rather than sense), but the double meaning of "wait on" makes ambivalence possible-- and that is the soul of art.

    Still, it's uncommon. "She's completely in love-- she hangs on his every word." In that context "waits on his every word" is also possible, but it means she is expecting the least little command, and eager to act on it.

    "The world doesn't wait on your convenience" doesn't mean servire, so it's another example where the term is synonymous with "wait for." "Time waits for no one" was originally "time waits on no man," and this may be an example of a British saying being Americanized for domestic use.

    If you're looking for simplicity and clarity, you won't go wrong dividing the words as I originally suggested-- but I'm in no position to judge how broadly that applies to usage in the whole English-speaking world.
    .
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    To wait on can mean to serve {She waited on tables}, to do everything {He waited on his wife hand and foot}, to wait {The lawyers are waiting on the jury}.

    To wait for can mean to prepare for you {She had a cup of coffee waiting for me}, expecting you {The police were waiting for him when he enered the bank}, to delay {Don't wait for me. I'm going to be late}
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I join FFB in advising you not to use 'wait on' to mean 'wait for', but I respectfully disagree about how widely used it is in AE.

    I have heard it throughout the eastern US. But here's the caveat: It is almost always, in my experience, used by relatively uneducated people, whose conversations rarely include words of more than two syllables, such as gunna and wanna.
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    cuchuflete said:
    I have heard it throughout the eastern US. But here's the caveat: It is almost always, in my experience, used by relatively uneducated people,
    I'll toss my vote in for its use in the mid-South US. In fact, I hear it quite frequently.

    Phone conversation:

    1: What are you doing?
    2: Nuthin'. Just waitin' on the cable guy. He was supposed to be here over an hour ago.

    I'm trying hard to believe that I've never used it like this, but shamefully I must admit I have probably slipped into "local' vernacular at least once or twice in my lifetime. :eek:
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    Merriam-Webster's says that there's nothing really wrong with using "waiting on" something, that the expression seems to convey the tedium of waiting better than "waiting for." And I have heard and read "we are waiting on the jury's verdict" many times.
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    river said:
    Merriam-Webster's says that there's nothing really wrong with using "waiting on" something, that the expression seems to convey the tedium of waiting better than "waiting for." And I have heard and read "we are waiting on the jury's verdict" many times.
    I don't think I've ever actually heard "waiting for the jury's verdict". Well, not that I can remember, anyway. It just seems more natural to say, "waiting on the jury's verdict".
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    "Wait on" is also often used in Minnesota to mean "wait for", but somewhat more, in my experience, by African-Americans than by others. Perhaps the expression moved up from points south with migration.

    But I have also heard it used by Minnesotans who are native speakers of Scandinavian languages, and even by second and third generation Scandinavian-Americans, which can be a case of a mis-translation (for example of Norwegian "vente på") which has moved permanently into English.

    So the usage gets reinforced from two directions, north and south!

    I would not recommend this usage to anyone learning English, but I certainly understand it when I hear it and have grown used to it. Since I like many of the people (from both north and south) who use it, who am I to criticize?
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid, she had no knowledge of it. -- Pride and Prejudice

    Could "wait on" have other meanings besides the ones that have been discussed above? Because from the context, it seems to mean to pay a visit?
     

    CAMullen

    Senior Member
    US, English
    We never used it in Eastern Massachusetts when I was young. I never heard it until I met some New Yorkers, who used the term "waiting on line." It has spread now (probably as a result of national news being NYCentric), but is still a little unusual here.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    jokker said:
    Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid, she had no knowledge of it. -- Pride and Prejudice

    Could "wait on" have other meanings besides the ones that have been discussed above? Because from the context, it seems to mean to pay a visit?
    Wait has many meanings, many of them now obsolete. In the quotation above, wait means:
    To pay a respectful visit to...

    That is definition 13c in the OED - there are 19 main definitions ...
     

    CarolSueC

    Senior Member
    USA--English
    CAMullen said:
    We never used it in Eastern Massachusetts when I was young. I never heard it until I met some New Yorkers, who used the term "waiting on line." It has spread now (probably as a result of national news being NYCentric), but is still a little unusual here.
    I'm from western Connecticut and never heard either "wait on" for "wait for" or "wait on line" instead of "wait in line" until I went to college and encountered people from other areas. I think "wait on line" originated in NYC area, but "wait on someone" is more Southern in origin and is a different usage. Living in the Midwest now, I hear the latter a lot; and it is not limited to uneducated speakers, as an earlier responder thinks. It's a regionalism, not a mark of education or lack of it. Still I'd recommend the standard "wait for" for anyone learning English.
     

    Encolpius

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Interesting....the origin might be Yiddish/German/Polish....on [auf in German, na in Polish and other Slavic languages] is used in that case...it is the standard preposition in Hungarian, too, but I doubt there is any relation... :D I have just heard that "strange" preposition in a song of One direction: "Hey girl, I'm waitin' on ya, I'm waitin' on ya, Come on and le tme sneak you out....so it is going to be even more popular now among teens...I think....
     

    interwrit

    Senior Member
    Polish
    As the thread has been "refreshed" anyway let me put my two cents in. :)


    As far as it goes, as a Polish native speaker I can say that if I wanted to create a loan translation for the expression "to wait for somebody/something" from the Polish "czekać na kogoś/coś" one, I would indeed say: "to wait on somebody/something, but even during writing about calquing I grimace... . :D


    Well, although the option with on meaning "waiting for (a person)" exists, I probably would not recommend using it in standard usage to you, as it is rather regional and largely confined to speech.


    As a curious detail I can add that the expression "to wait on (an event)" or even a "to wait upon (an event)" one, as in "We would prefer to wait on/upon your answer before making a final decision", do not have a regional pattern and occur in various contexts. That is probably why @You little ripper! said that he/she finds the option with on not only proper but even better as far as usage with "the jury's verdict" (I'm quoting: "I don't think I've ever actually heard "waiting for the jury's verdict". Well, not that I can remember, anyway. It just seems more natural to say, "waiting on the jury's verdict")! :)


    Ufff, well, any English native who can give their opinion on what I have written?
    ---
     
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    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don't think Yiddish, Polish or German are likley to be behind BrE "to wait on", because Britain has not seen much immigration by speakers of those languages. The British newspaper "The Guardian" carried a football article headed "Arsenal wait on Rosicky fitness". This means that Arsenal were waiting to see whether the player Tomas Rosicky would get back to fitness in time for a particular game and that the outcome would affect team selection for that game. It is not the same as "Arsenal wait for Rosicky fitness", which would simply mean that the club was waiting for the player's return to fitness.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    While I would recommend "wait for" to a non-native speaker in that context, I hesitate to say "wait on" is wrong, when it's perfectly idiomatic in some regions.
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    So in standard English, he should have used 'for' not 'on', right?

    View attachment 49923
    Yes -- if "standard English" is needed, "wait for" is the preferred option -- the guy in the picture may not be functioning in a context where standard English is necessary, however, and it could even be that "wait on" would be used by more people wherever he is and for whatever he is doing; the first time I heard "wait on" used instead of "wait for" I was confused, but that was probably 60 years ago -- everyone probably understands it nowadays
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Merriam-Webster's says that there's nothing really wrong with using "waiting on" something, that the expression seems to convey the tedium of waiting better than "waiting for." And I have heard and read "we are waiting on the jury's verdict" many times.
    I find absolutely nothing wrong with it and I agree with Merriam-Webster. The two versions have different senses. I may even go so far to say that wait on functions more like a phrasal verb and wait for is simple standard grammar of two different words.

    I am waiting for Tom to bring me the boxes.
    I am waiting on Tom. He should have been here by now. (I am stuck here until Tom comes.)
     
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