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Today, I am writing technical documentation that instructs the user how to install software to a server. I encountered the following sentence and am unsure which is correct:

When installing to a server other than that on which SQL Server is installed, ...

Should on be changed to upon?

When installing to a server other than that upon which SQL Server is installed, ...

It all seems like a mouthful, but appears to be grammatically correct.

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Saying that something is upon a server gives me the impression that it is sitting on top of the server. They are both grammatically correct, but only on conveys the proper meaning. –  Peter Shor Jun 28 '11 at 18:45
    
Good observation. I believe the context of the sentence negates the association between "upon" and physical location. –  Mike Christian Jun 29 '11 at 16:27

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Both are indeed acceptable. I agree with Peter that upon kind of reminds me of something being within a physical relativity of the SQL server which is something I do not think you wish to convey to the user.

However, I would write

When installing to a server besides the one on which the SQL Server is installed …

instead of

When installing to a server other than that on which SQL Server is installed …

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Good substitution! –  Mike Christian Jun 29 '11 at 16:23

They're both acceptable. "Upon" is a little older and not used as much, certainly informally, as simply "on", but "upon" is still seen in technical and official documents.

The use of either preposition implies the figurative sense of a computer as a "platform" on which work can be done, documents can be placed, etc. You can also think of a computer, specifically its hard drives, as a "container" in which things are stored. In context, a person reading the document will almost certainly know that software is not installed by literally "putting it upon the computer" as in setting the disk on top of the computer case.

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yes, somebody reading the document would almost certainly know what you meant if you used the proposition in, at, or onto, as well. That's not a good justification for using the wrong preposition. (I'm not totally convinced that upon is strictly incorrect, but on is much more frequent in this context.) –  Peter Shor Jun 28 '11 at 23:05
    
Very good observation. However, I'm going with the substitution suggested by @Martha. –  Mike Christian Jun 29 '11 at 16:24

Upon is a preposition that means on and it is especially used in abstract sense.

The NOAD has the following notes about upon:

The preposition upon has the same core meaning as the preposition on. Upon is sometimes more formal than on, however, and is preferred in the phrases "once upon a time" and "upon my word," and in uses such as "row upon row of seats" and "Christmas is almost upon us."

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