A weekend is not a surface

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Last night at dinner, several Americans and a Canadian got into a discussion with an Irishman and an Australian about weekends. Since all of the participants were linguists, the discussion centered on prepositions: Were we having dinner on a weekend in February or at a weekend in February?  The North Americans voted for "on", a choice that the Irishman found preposterous. "A weekend," he observed, "is not a surface."

But he was forced to admit that the appropriate usage is on Saturday, not at Saturday, and on Sunday, not at Sunday. "So," countered one of the Americans, "Saturday is a surface, and Sunday is a surface, but their combination is not a surface?"

An attempt ensued to achieve descriptive accuracy. It was agreed that times within the day generally take at (at 9:30, at noon, at dawn, at dinner, at night), except for those that take in with the definite article (in the morning, in the evening); that days generally take on (on Monday, on her birthday, on Valentine's Day), except maybe for at Christmas; that months and seasons and years and centuries generally take in (in December, in winter, in 1893, in the 15th century).  And never mind the (generally relative) time-references that don't take any preposition at all, like tomorrow, next week, three days ago.

This all hints at a coherent metaphor: hours and other short periods of time are places; days are surfaces; months and longer time periods are containers.  But it seems that only North Americans apply this logic to weekends.

For a more serious, large-scale, and cross-linguistic look at spatial metaphors in time expressions, see Martin Haspelmath, "From Space to Time: Temporal Adverbials in the World’s Languages",  1997. But I don't think that he takes up the question that we had fun with at (not on or in) dinner.


  1. Mara K said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 10:18 am

    I wonder how extensive that is cross-linguistically. It doesn't seem to happen in Mandarin, though Mandarin does have the interesting property of putting the past above the speaker and the future below (上(up)个星期, last week; 下(down)个星期, next week). Nor does Spanish, which is the other language I've studied extensively, though I invite native speakers of either to confirm/correct me on this. (In Spanish, the past has passed (la semana pasada, last week), and the future has yet to arrive (la semana que viene, next week). Does that strike native speakers as directional?)

  2. DaveK said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 10:57 am

    And then there's "over". "Over the weekend", "over New Year's" but this seems very restricted.

  3. Howard Oakley said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 11:04 am

    An interesting discussion. I think that you can resolve the Christmas issue according to whether you are referring to the period/feast, in which case it should be 'at Christmas', as in "at Christmas time", or just Christmas Day, in which case it should be 'on Christmas [day]' as in the song. Easter being a period/feast can only be 'at Easter', and I think 'on Easter' is very unusual.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    The phrase "at the weekend" is very markedly British (or at least non-US) to my ear, but reasonably common, I think, in that context. It deviates from the pattern noted above of "at" phrases being anarthrous.

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 11:36 am

    While I have often come across 'at the weekend' in British literature, I've always assumed it to refer to the weekend as an event (as, for example, a weekend spent at a country house) rather than a mere time period. Are British stores open or closed "at weekends"?

    I also wonder if the sports commentators' 'for' in the sense of 'over the course of' ("he's batting .295 for the season") is a NAm peculiarity.

    I like Mark's metaphor of the increasing dimensionality of longer time periods: point → surface → volume. By this progression, geological or astronomical times should be 4D; what is the right preposition then?

  6. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 11:42 am

    @ Mara K: French also puts the past up. In French, le haut Moyen Âge means the Early Middle Ages and not what is usually called the High Middle Ages (German Hochmittelalter).

  7. JW Mason said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 11:47 am

    By this progression, geological or astronomical times should be 4D; what is the right preposition then?

    Or maybe a flow — "through the ages," "through history."

    "Industrial output grew grew through the 20th century" clearly refers to growth during the century whereas "Industrial output grew through 2010" implicitly refers to some longer period of time ending in that year; for that year only, you'd talk about growth "over 2010." So again, surface –> volume as the period lengthens, but with motion rather than location.

  8. Ø said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

    I've always imagined that the logic behind the British "at the weekend" is related to "at the end of the week".

  9. djw said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

    @Howard Oakley–That's what I was thinking (6+decades Texan). I'd use "on Christmas" or "on Christmas Day" or "on Easter Sunday," but never just "on Easter." "At Christmas" and "at Easter" are perfectly ok for me for "during the time around (and usually preceding)" those holidays.

  10. Anna said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    I've heard both, though "on the weekend" is more common in Western Canada. "On" seems to be used fairly frequently in North American English – it's a more common particle in phrasal verbs than "at" is.

  11. Peter Taylor said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    Doesn't tomorrow sort-of incorporate a preposition, at least etymologically?

    @Cory Lubliner,

    While I have often come across 'at the weekend' in British literature, I've always assumed it to refer to the weekend as an event (as, for example, a weekend spent at a country house) rather than a mere time period. Are British stores open or closed "at weekends"?

    This may be so in literature set in upper-class circles, but in general usage I would interpret it as referring to the time period, and a quick glance down the first page of results in BNC for the phrase at the weekend hasn't changed my opinion on that.

    J.W. Brewer's impression seems to be backed up by the corpora, though. [i*] the weekend in BNC gives top five results: at (705), over (362), for (213), of (96), on (75). In COCA it gives over (2440), for (911), on (606), of (358), through (153); at languishes in 9th on 85.

  12. Lllessur Llihgdots said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

    I think the divisions are more or less correct but it might be more coherent to formulate it in terms of 1D, 2D, or 3D perspectives ("at", "on" and "in", respectively) as it seems a bit less ad hoc. (I see Coby Lubliner has also mentioned in a previous comment.) The temporal sense echoes the underlying physical distinctions in the originals, e.g., "at the corner", "on the corner","in the corner".

    "At" marks a 1D point in physical terms, e.g., "at Shinjuku Station" when viewed from a suitably abstracted view, while "in Shinjuku Station" when zoomed in. This extends to time with uses like “at 9”, “at the age of 20”, “at midnight” etc. The notable exception might be considered “at night”, which doesn’t seem to indicate a precise time though this may be a historical anomaly and perhaps a truncated version of “nightfall”. In the temporal extension of the underlying metaphor, "at" is used in reference to a point in a timeline. In the case of UK usage, "at" is used true to the literal meaning of "week-end" as being the point at the end of the week timeline.

    "On" might be considered 2D and used in a planar sense. Since the notion of days is dependent on a calendar and a place-holder (at least figuratively), it would make sense to use "on" in this context. This usage is most likely reinforced by the physical spaces provided on calendars and in diaries. The US usage seems a correction towards the dominant metaphor of counter days rather than the timeline model sense rubbed from the word through use. This is probably strengthened by the "content" metaphor of the weekend days and the use of "on" in those senses, e.g., "On Human Nature", etc. (I would suggest that the content and “continuous motion” uses of “on” with words like trip, journey, vacation, picnic, mission, etc. are extensions of the underlying planar metaphor.)

    "In", in keeping with the underlying physical metaphor, is 3D and so describes times whose relations are surrounding the reference point.

    Christmas seems to follow these rules with “at Christmas (time)” denoted a point in reference to the rest of a continuous timeline; “on Christmas (Day)” indicating the actual holiday itself; and “in the Christmas season” positioning an event with the surrounding time period. Perhaps it is more interesting that “in the weekend” is not used, with the possible exception of something slightly poetic like “I got lost in the weekend.”

    Strangely, as a North American, I don’t use “on the weekend” very much. I usually opt for “over”, “during” or “this”.

  13. Sid Smith said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

    It's the "the" which messes stuff up, perhaps.

    "On a weekend" is fine in Br Eng; eg, "We met on a weekend in July". (We couldn't say "at a weekend in July"; it sounds like a place.) But we certainly say "at the weekend". It's this use of "on the" which strikes these Br Eng ears as very American.

    Perhaps Americans see the weekend as analogous to "on Christmas Day", "on Sunday", and the Brits see it as a restricted space akin to "I'll meet you at the airport in London".

  14. Bill W said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

    "In French, le haut Moyen Âge means the Early Middle Ages and not what is usually called the High Middle Ages (German Hochmittelalter)."

    Also le Haut-Empire and le Bas-Empire — the early Roman empire and the late Roman empire, respectively.

  15. Ø said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

    ("he's batting .295 for the season")

    Coby, what about "he's batting .295 on the season", or "on the night". This is a usage, by US sports commenters, that always jars me (US).

  16. Charles in Vancouver said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    Ø and Sid Smith have a point. North American English would have no problem with "at the end of the week". Or at the end of any time period – day, night, month, year, century, epoch. That could explain both why the British say "at the weekend" and why they don't say "at a weekend in July".

  17. Brett said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    As a rather secular American, I have no notion of Easter as a season, much less a feast. While Christmas has a whole period of time associated with it, Easter is just a day of the year. So can only say "on Easter"; I would consider "at Easter" markedly British-sounding.

  18. Rebecca said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

    Where did the Australian come down on the on/at the weekend question?

    Fwiw, although in general, "at the weekend" is just wrong to my American ears, it's perfectly ok if the weekend in question is a very particular, named one. For example, this sounds fine:

    "We're going to see them at Parent's Weekend"

    I guess because that's just an event whose name happens to include the word "weekend"

  19. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

    @ Ø : That was what I actually meant — "on the season," not "for". I got mixed up with sports usage of 'for' meaning 'out of' as in "he hit three for five."

  20. mae said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

    Headline from the NY TImes: "Why Is AT&T Releasing Nokia’s Big Phone on Easter?" APRIL 6, 2012 — so it's not impossible to use that phrase.

  21. Bill Levine said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

    Mark, some of your colleagues have done experimental work to try to see if the spatial metaphors implied by different prepositions (e.g., "in" is much more of a container than "at") have influence on the way we understand time.


    They had subjects respond to stimuli in which these prepositions were present or not, as in "The meeting at noon has been moved forward 2 hours. At what hour is the meeting now that it has been rescheduled?" versus "The noon meeting … What hour is the meeting now …?" The results weren't wow-inducing, but they did show that the presence the different prepositions seemed to alter the way people understood time. The biggest influence came from "at": without the preposition "at", subjects showed a slight bias (~57% to 43%) to interpret "forward 2 hours" as 2 hours later (which hurts my intuitions), but with "at" there was a strong reversal to the bias such that about 65% of subjects interpreted "forward 2 hours" as 2 hours earlier.

  22. Howard Oakley said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 2:28 pm

    Brett – in the UK, there is no single day that is known as "Easter". The holiday period here consists of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday, the last being a statutory Public Holiday. "Easter" here refers to the whole period, usually eliding the Saturday which neither has a special name nor is marked as a holiday.
    I agree that in the UK 'at the weekend' is far more common than 'on the weekend', to the point where the latter would be considered odd by most. In addition to the complication of the article, identified by Sid Smith above, until the 1970s many working folk in the UK used to work until midday Saturday, and the weekend often did not start on Friday afternoon, as it seems to now. But it does remain a curiosity.

  23. David Morris said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

    1) Google Ngrams shows 'at' as British and 'on' and American, but in either case the phrase starts being used in about 1920. What did people say before then? Or (see the dowager countess in Downton Abbey) didn't they have weekends?
    2) In ESL classrooms, I say, 'Remember – on Saturday, on Sunday, on the weekend.' without 'correcting' anyone who says/writes 'at the weekend'.

  24. Y said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    Maybe there are two time scales, a short and a long one: "on my lunch break", "in the afternoon"; but also "on Tuesday", "in July".

  25. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

    JW Mason: "Over 2010" sounds like business jargon to me. I'd say "during 2010".

    I believe our British friends use "through" for time differently from us, or not at all. I'm pretty sure they don't say "Monday through Friday" or "2008 through 2010". They haven't mentioned it in response to your comment, though.

    Speaking of "during" (and no longer specifically to JW Mason), is "during the day" the only opposite of "at night"?

    No one has mentioned the prepositionless (aprothetic?) American "see you Wednesday" compared with British "see you on Wednesday".

    Sportscasters say "he batted .295 on the season", but please tell me they don't (yet) say "he batted .295 on 2009".

  26. Keith Ivey said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

    Does the use of "at" versus "on" with "the weekend" line up with the pronunciation of "weekend" with final versus initial stress? If you pronounce "weekend" more like "week end" (final stress) do you think of it more as an end rather than a sequence of days?

  27. Howard Oakley said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

    British English normally uses 'X to Y' to express all ranges, rather than N American 'X through Y', and that also applies to time periods.
    I would look at 'in the day' as perhaps matching 'at night'?
    British English accepts either "see you on Wednesday" or "see you Wednesday" now; I suspect that this is a recent change influenced by N American usage.
    It is well worth looking at Chapter 7 of Martin Haspelmath's monograph, as linked – there are neat diagrams summarising usage in English and some other languages, including Hungarian, which differentiates the most.

  28. Ellen K. said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

    Keith Ivy, I'm puzzled by your question regarding stress. Seems to me "Week end" pronounced with "end" stressed more would be "weak end", not "week end", an entirely different meaning.

  29. David Morris said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

    There are occasional usages of 'weekend' through the 19th century, but essentially the word came into wider usage around 1910.
    I just asked my teaching colleague about this. She said that she says 'on the weekend' on Monday (ie to talk about the previous weekend) and 'at the weekend' on Friday (to talk about the coming weekend).

  30. Jayarava said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

    The academic idiom "on this view…" has always puzzled me. In that view a view is a surface, but in my view it is a container. What do others think?

  31. Ø said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

    I had the same thought as Keith. My possibly crackpot theory in full is that Americans invented the word "weekend", British people familiarized themselves with the word but continued to think of it, influenced by etymology, as the end of a week rather than an entity in its own right, resulting in both the use of "at" as in "at the end of the week" and also the stress pattern "weekEND" .

  32. tpr said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

    @Coby Lubliner and @Lllessur Llihgdots:

    I don't think at, on and in really correspond to increasing dimensionality in quite the way you have described. At is used to specify a point (and anything that is nearly confined to a point) in either space or time, but this could be a point within a 1D range, 2D area, or 3D space. On is used to indicate that an object (or event by metaphorical extension) is in contact with a 2D surface or 1D border as in "on the wall" and "on the edge". In is used to indicate containment, but again, this could be within a 1D range, 2D area, or 3D space.

  33. Adrian Morgan said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

    The blog post doesn't explicitely tell us what the Australian said, but if they were representative they would have sided with the Americans.

  34. Rubrick said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 6:34 pm

    Mayhap we will learn the true answer on the morrow.

  35. dw said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 7:01 pm

    @Howard Oakley

    The Saturday immediately before Easter Day is technically know as Easter Even, Easter Eve, or Holy Saturday, but I doubt that any of these are widely known outside ecclesiastical circles.

  36. Gordon Campbell said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 7:08 pm

    Australian here, and I say "on" the weekend.

  37. Ø said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

    Jayarava, why would a view be a container?

    Relatedly, what is the correct preposition for "___ this hypothesis"? I think that "under" is commonly used but that there are etymologically minded know-it-alls who prefer "on".

  38. BZ said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

    For what it's worth, Russian uses "in" consistently for just about any time reference. On the other hand, there is no equivalent for "at" in Russian, which may cause some of this. The closest is "у" which approximately means "by" in the sense of "near", and is also used to denote possession, which is how a time reference with this preposition would be interpreted.

  39. John Roth said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 8:11 pm

    I remember seeing someone talk about this metaphor quite a few years ago; possibly a paper written by someone in George Lakoff's group, but at this late date I can't be sure. As an American, I say "on the weekend."

    I find the distinction between a point in time (a discrete event) and a span of time in which the event could occur to be fairly clear, but the distinction between on and in, both of which imply that the event is within some kind of bounded constraint, to be less clear. This may relate to the difference: the distinction simply isn't sharp enough to prohibit variation.

  40. David Morris said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    I started my class this morning by asking 'What did you do at the weekend?' and it sounded wrong to my ears.

  41. Joe Fineman said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 9:58 pm

    BZ: I thought you did something "on" (na) a week in Russian, and "into" (v + accusative) a precise time of day. Morning, afternoon, & evening don't take a preposition, but are put in the instrumental case. However, it's been a while.

  42. Chuck said,

    February 23, 2014 @ 11:52 pm

    "Over the weekend" is more common in my American vernacular than these comments suggest. I routinely use on, never at. Often some other qualifier (next, last, this, that) displaces all prepositions. In casual Monday conversation I would ask a colleague what he did over the weekend. "On" would be understood but strange in this context. I initially thought over was just used to refer to the past, but it also comes up (with a jocular feel) in "what are do you doing over the holiday weekend?"

  43. James said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:19 am

    Cannot remember the source, but I remember reading that the distinction was due to the way weekends were traditionally displayed on calenders, with American calenders showing both Saturday and Sunday on one page/space, hence the use of on, and British calenders showing them as two separate pages/spaces, the weekend thus being somewhat analogous to periods such as Christmas.

  44. Mar Rojo said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 3:13 am

    What of "It's taking place __ the last weekend in August."?

  45. Mar Rojo said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 3:25 am

    "An additional difference in the application of generalities is the preference for at (BrE and common) vs over (AmE) for longer holidays and weekends (at/over Easter). Here at usage the relatively punctual nature of the time unit, while AmE usage underscores its longer absolute length. The use of at the weekend (BrE; impossible in AmE) fits this pattern and treats weeknd punctually. AmE on (beside over) the weekend treats weekend in the same way as a weekday (on Monday)."

    A Survey of Modern English
    By Stephan Gramley, Kurt-Michael Pätzold

  46. Matt_M said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 3:33 am

    Another Australian: I think "at the weekend" and "on the weekend" are more or less in free variation for me, with "on the weekend", however, being much more common. For what it's worth, the search string <> yields 95,300,000 google results, while <> yields 106,000,000.

    As for stress, I stress "weekend" on the first syllable when I say it in isolation or when it's preceded by an unstressed syllable (such as in the phrase "on the weekend"), but I stress it on the second syllable when it's preceded by a stressed syllable — in phrases like "this weekend", "next weekend", "last weekend", and "the first weekend in March".

  47. Colin Fine said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 3:54 am

    Thinking about my British usage, it's very clearly "on" something which designates a day – which "Christmas","Easter", and "New Year" all fail to do.
    I can also test this against my Jewish upbringing: "on Yom Kippur" (day of atonement), "on Shabbas" (Sabbath), but "at Pesach" (Passover). Also, tellingly, "on Rosh haShana" (on the day of the Jewish new year), but "at Rosh haShana" (over the festival, which some observed for two days) .

  48. Rakau said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 5:00 am

    In Aotearoa New Zealand we would say "What did you do in the weekend?" Similarly "in the holidays (vacation I think to North Americans)" but we would be "on holiday." My younger work colleagues are "on lunch" meaning having their lunch breaks while I (born 1954) am "at lunch." I have never heard a New Zealander say "on Easter." It is always "at." I might see you "in an hour" but "on the hour" means 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock etc, but if I was being precise I would see you "at 3 pm."

  49. Matt_M said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 5:05 am

    Some weirdness going on with the formatting of my post above. I meant to say:

    the search string ' "on the weekend" site:.au ' yields 106,000,000 google results, while ' "at the weekend" site:.au ' yields 95,300,000.

  50. mollymooly said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 7:43 am

    Irish: "at the weekend" unqualified (whether generic or with a particular weekend implicit), but "on the weekend in question", "on the first weekend in April"; here "on" is optional.

  51. Ø said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 7:59 am

    Then there's "over the weekend".

  52. Mark Etherton said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 8:14 am

    @Sid Smith

    To this Br Eng speaker at least, "on a weekend" sounds strange. Instead of the example of "We met on a weekend in July", I'd say something like "We met one weekend in July" or "We met in July, at the weekend".

  53. a George said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 9:57 am

    — my references are now becoming so muddled that I shall in future say "during the weekend", just to be safe.

  54. Lara said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 10:59 am

    In Russian we have the same preposition for at and in, so we say in 9:30 and in July. More than that, days take in as well, mornings and evening as well. Everything is In. In Monday, In this year, etc. But! We say on this week, on the weekend, and on holidays, including on Christmas. And we also say on lunch and on dinner.

  55. Andrew Bay said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:03 am

    My question is, "if today is Sunday, when is Next Saturday?"

  56. Lara said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:09 am

    Actually, you can also say in lunch and in dinner, if you want to say that something happens at the time of the lunch, for instance.(I'm talking about Russian).

  57. Mark Dunan said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:12 am

    One more weird sports announcer construction: I've heard "over" used with numbers of innings for pitchers, as in "he allowed six hits and three runs over seven innings", sometimes with the word "innings" omitted; to my ear, the natural preposition is "in".

    "Over" sounds somewhat more natural with a team's record "over their last 10 games", or "over three seasons". The smaller the unit, the weirder "over" seems.

  58. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

    The OED's earliest citation of week-end dates from 1638, with the phrase "…people..who making every week a coarse kersey and being compelled to sell the same at the week end…"; to me this sounds simply like "at the end of the week" (it could also have been "at the week's end"), rather than a reference the day-and-a-half or two-day period between workweeks. But it could be the source of the later "at the weekend.

    @ James: you have the calendar pictures reversed. It's British and other European calendars that show Saturday and Sunday together as the last two days of the week (hence "weekend"), while on American calendars the week begins with Sunday.

  59. BZ said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

    You are right about morning, evening, etc. I didn't want to muddy the waters too much, hence "most" in my post. You are also right about "on" a week where English doesn't take a preposition. You have a point about "into" (which as you point out uses the same preposition as "in" with an accusative), but the metaphor is frozen. You cannot travel into 5 o'clock, nor can you ask "into what?" when you didn't hear the time spoken about (you say "when?" or "into which day?"). So it really is more complicated than I made it out to be.

    I disagree about "at" and "in" using the same preposition. Certainly there are many times you'd say "in" for "at", like "in" the store or "in" the theater, but you are "on" the bus stop and "on" the beach, and even "on" work, which supports my contention that Russian does not actually have an equivalent for "at", and therefore makes due with other prepositions. You also don't say "on" the weekend. You say "in(to)".

    For meals, you say "on(to)" (it's that accusative again) when you'd say "for" in English (As in having a particular food for dinner or having a guest speaker for lunch). For that matter, you also use it when you use "for" with a time reference in English (as in scheduling something for 5 o'clock). When you use "at" with a mealtime in English, it would be "in(to)". Except that only works for lunch and dinner. For breakfast and supper, you have to say the equivalent of "at the time of" instead.

  60. John Lawler said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

    Way back in the 1960s, when I taught ESL, I used to tell students that the size of the time period controlled the preposition: big periods used in: in a week/ten years/the next century, small periods used at: at 2:53/noon, and periods inbetween, especially named ones, used on: on Wednesday/the weekend/. This was serviceable, if weird.

    Later I learned, via the late Chuck Fillmore's Deixis Lectures, that there is a lot more involved.

  61. He said, she said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

    As long as we're contemplating number of dimensions, let's be clear: a point has zero dimensions, a surface has two and a container has three. Is there any part of this metaphorical structure that accommodates or requires a genuinely one-dimensional phenomenon–akin to "along the prime meridian" but for durations?

    Then again, perhaps this is immaterial, thanks to the comment from @tpr.

  62. Jamie said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    I will second what @Sid Smith says about the difference between "the" and "a" weekend in Br. Eng.

  63. Levantine said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

    Not to complicate things further, but the post and comments brought to mind the old-fashioned (and now dialectal) use of "of a(n)" when referring to periods of time like the morning or afternoon, particularly in relation to habitual or repeated actions: "When Mr. Smith went out of an evening, he would eat his dinner early."

  64. etv13 said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

    Jerry: an opposite of "at night" is "by day."

    To confuse all the talk about British and American calendars: my Sierra Club weekly engagement calendar starts each page with Monday, but the monthly calendar at the top of each page has Sunday on the left end and Saturday on the right.

  65. Emily said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 7:02 pm

    @Coby: By this progression, geological or astronomical times should be 4D; what is the right preposition then?

    I don't know of any terms for location in 4D space, but the directional terms are apparently ana and kata.

    I've been thinking about how over is used for time– I think I use it for what one might call transitional periods of time between times of work or activity: holidays, weekends, summer vacation, night. But I'm not sure I'd use it for very short intervals, like ?over my lunch break. I also use it in constructions like those Mark Dunan mentioned, though, when talking about progress and changes throughout a period of time.

  66. Lindsay Costelloe said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

    As an Australian I concur with previous comments about Australian usage: "on the weekend" it is. Conversely, it is never "on Christmas" but it can be "on Christmas Day", Christmas being a season rather than a single day. The same holds true for New Year and Easter; I think "over Christmas", "over New Year", "at Easter" or "over Easter" as opposed to "on New Year's Day", "on Easter Sunday" and so forth.

  67. SG said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

    Could not agree more with the American 'on'…it goes to show the way language is culturally conditioned, so that what sounds orthodox to one, sounds heterodox to another. Life lesson there.

  68. Dylan said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 9:26 pm

    I suppose these discussions could go on forever…having lived in the UK, it took me a while to get used to 'so and so is in hospital' rather than 'is in the hospital'…or 'we are going on holiday' rather than 'we are going on a holiday/vacation'.

  69. elessorn said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:59 pm

    It seems reasonable, barring counterevidence, to see at as the original usage, dating from a time when weekend was still a kind of end rather than a kind of day. The idea would be that in some communities of English speakers, cultural changes favoring reanalysis of the weekend as a member of the day family proved stronger than a habitual at usage reinforced by decently strong frequency. In other communities, habit proved more resilient.

    I'm a little surprised that there was immediate recourse to extrapolation of different internal preposition-spatial metaphor schemation regimes. The analysis of days as surfaces could easily be less the reason for using on than merely the way native child learners of generations made sense of on-usage habits whose historical origins were opaque to them. It at least seems a little weird to me that the historical angle was not immediately reached for– am I missing something?

  70. Ken Brown said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 2:23 am

    @Andrew Bay, as for "next Saturday", I've taken part in that discussion a number of times. And its clear that there is individual variation, within cultures and countries. There is no firm rule. So if you want to be exact, don't use it.

    Same goes for "12am" and "12pm". Despite what prescriptivist pedants say, there is variation in usage. Even between clock alarms. If you want to be clear you have to say "noon" or "midnight". Or upgrade to the last century and use a 24-hour clock.

    (And why does "midday" sound slightly wrong in that context?)

  71. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 3:33 am

    Ken Brown, "midday" is the natural way that I (a Brit) express noon, but here in America, I'm mindful of the fact that the word is usually understood as denoting an unspecified point in the middle of the day.

    Others Britishisms I've had to leave behind, though I found them very useful back in Blighty, are "fortnight" (which is understood by Americans but viewed as quaint/archaic) and the use of "week" as a suffix to clarify which forthcoming day is meant (e.g., "Monday week" to mean not the immediately coming Monday, but the Monday after that).

  72. Marion Crane said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 7:05 am

    Interesting. I must say that I can't recall ever coming across either – I'm trying to think back and all that I can come up with is people just not using a preposition at all, or maybe 'during', but maybe I'm remembering wrong. I bet I'll start noticing it now, though, haha.

    Myself, I would use 'in' but that's because it's what Dutch uses, and as an ESL my proficiency in English is still not 100% native.

  73. Rodger C said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 8:23 am

    @Levantine: I'm pleased to learn that "Monday week" is normal British usage. When I left West Virginia for the Midwest, no one could understand what I meant by it.

  74. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 11:48 am

    Rodger C, does that mean that "Monday week" would be understood in (parts of) the South?

  75. Rodger C said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

    It would certainly be understoof where I came from. I don't know if DARE covers it.

  76. Rodger C said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 12:51 pm


  77. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

    Thanks! I'll try to use it if ever I venture down there.

  78. errorr said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

    I always thought weekend was a construction of the labor movement but doing some googling this seems to not be the source of the term. Although it is interesting to note that the supposed first instance of a weekend (meaning multiple days without work) was when a New England cotton mill accommodated their Jewish workers religious needs by providing a weekend of Fri AND Sat.

    The term seemed to have become ubiquitous in both the US and UK around the 1880s as a marketing device of the railroads. The "weekend excursion" ticket allowed one to travel any distance round trip leaving noon Sat. to noon Sun. and returning noon Sun. to noon Mon.

    It also seems that by the turn of the century the US preferred over while the UK used at.

    During the earlier 19th century the term seems to be used to mean an entire week. Thus one result from a 1830s london newspaper used weekend to describe the commodity transactions of an entire week. This seems to be shorthand for trading during the week ending [date].

    Weekend could also perhaps be a shortening of the common phrase "week's end to week's end".

    Most results for pre 1880s weekend were in fact alternate spellings of weakened.

  79. Rebecca said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

    I'm curious about how this works with lengths slightly longer than a two-day Saturday+Sunday weekend. For example, what about a long weekend or a vacation of indeterminate length?

    "What are you doing [for/at/on/during/over etc] Labor Day Weekend/the long weekend/your vacation etc?"


  80. Brett said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

    @Rebecca: As I considered your question, I initially though that I had a strong preference for "over" over "on" for a long weekend. However, I realized that's not what's actually going on. For me, "on the weekend" is much more habitual that "over the weekend," which tends to refer to a specific weekend. Since long weekends are uncommon, the context rarely favors the habitual use of "on." However, something like, "I got skiing on long weekends," sounds absolutely fine.

  81. Martha said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 11:28 pm

    Does "Monday week" = "a week from Monday"?

    Although "on the weekend" doesn't sound wrong or foreign to me (an American), I can't imagine saying it. "What are you doing this weekend," "What did you do last weekend," and "What did you do over the weekend" all seem more likely to me, but also "On weekends, I stay home."

    I have an American friend who I've caught saying "at the weekend," which catches my ear, but I have always attributed it to her having spent some time as a young person in Austria, and although my German has deteriorated since I studied it, I'm pretty sure German has "am Weekend," so "at the weekend."

  82. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 12:04 am

    Martha, yes, "Monday week" = "a week from Monday" (or "a week on Monday", as others would say it).

  83. nbm said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 7:12 am

    I'm surprised no one has yet brought up "for" as another word used with "weekend." I (New Yorker) am much more likely to say "I'll be away for the weekend" than to use "on" or "at." ("At" would be a deliberate Briticism.) "Over" would be my next most likely choice.

    Or is "for" not interesting because it's about equally likely with short or long periods? It just seemed so common that it needed to be be mentioned.

    (Of course, it's only used for activities stretching across the period. You wouldn't go to a movie for the weekend. [Except maybe Warhol's EMPIRE.])

  84. Milan said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 7:34 am

    Martha:Indeed, German has "am Wochenende" – at the weekend. It is used for specific weekends and (with "immer" (ever)) for weekends in general. (Native Speaker here)

  85. Rodger C said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 7:44 am

    Well, this is getting complicated. To me "Monday week" means "Monday in the next week, regardless of whether it's more or less than a week away."

  86. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

    Rodger C, does that mean that if you said "Monday week" on, for example, Tuesday 1 January, you would be referring to Monday 7 January? For me, that would be "next Monday", with "Monday week" being Monday 14 January. There's also the less common expression "Monday fortnight", which, if said on our hypothetical Tuesday 1 January, would mean Monday 21 January.

  87. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

    nbm, that usage of "for" sounds fine to my British ear, and not only when speaking of the weekend. "I'm going away for the week", "I'm leaving town for Christmas", "I'm staying here for the summer" all seem very normal to me. I don't know whether its significant that all these examples pertain to travel plans (or the lack of them).

  88. Rodger C said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

    @Levantine: On consideration, I think my mother used "Monday week" in your sense. It hasn't been part of my active vocabulary for quite a while. When I said it, my housemates (from Michigan and New Jersey) laughed at my provinciality. Well.

  89. Geoff Nunberg said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

    Every time a matter like this comes up, I miss not having Chuck Fillmore to ask about it.

  90. Martha said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 10:33 pm

    Thanks, Milan. Also, I knew that there was something wrong with "am Weekend," but I was so worried about "am" that I forgot to say weekend in German!

    "For the weekend" sounds like "for Christmas" to me. Like, there would have to be something special about the weekend to say "for" with it.

  91. John said,

    February 27, 2014 @ 7:25 am

    Sid Smith raises a distinction I'm surprised nobody else has mentioned. As a Brit, "at A weekend" sounds wrong; "at THE weekend" would be fine. Conversely, "on a weekend" (a hypothetical one) sound better than "on the weekend".

    "Are you going to be free on a weekend any time this month?"
    "I'm free this weekend, actually."
    "Oh, perfect. OK, I'll see you at the weekend, then!"

  92. Mark White said,

    February 28, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

    Of course the weekend becomes a container if you go on a binge.

    "Where were you on Saturday, mate? We were hoping to see you."
    "Ah, [expletive], I was in the middle of another lost weekend."

  93. Michelle K. Gross said,

    March 3, 2014 @ 11:37 pm


    The pronunciation is different enough between the Br and Am words that I would want to see if they have the same or different lexical status–compound noun or noun phrase.

  94. Levantine said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

    Michelle K. Gross, perhaps it reflects American influence, but I've heard Brits (including myself at times) putting the stress on the first syllable when saying "weekend".

  95. Crazy Tom said,

    June 25, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

    I'm reading this months later, during the World Cup, and Switzerland have just scored a goal "in the sixth minute". Certainly not "at the sixth minute". Is a minute a container?

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