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Is there any difference between the usage of 'later' and 'later on'?

  • I'll see you later.
  • I'll finish it later on.
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would say the addition of the word “on” is more or less superfluous in almost every case. In other words, I believe later can always be substituted for later on, but not the other way around. When in doubt, later is the safe word to use.

For example,

We will have lunch now, and later on(or later) we will go to the park.

Where you can’t use later on:

I arrived later than she did.

See you later.

Later can be a way of saying goodbye, as a short form of “see you later”, but you can’t use “later on” in this way. Later and later on can both be thought of as short terms for “later on in time”.

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The Oxford English Dictionary just gives it as a synonym of the adverb "later", but to me there feels to be an expressive difference, at least sometimes. I think it has a connotation of including the hearer in whatever is going to happen. So in

When are you going to look at this?

Later.

or Later on.

the reply "Later on" seems less brusque, and more conciliatory. But it is a very subtle difference.

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I think there can be an "expressive difference", as you call it. @Terry doesn't expand on it, but to me his example encapsulates what I mean. It seems to me adding "on" is more likely when "later [on]" means relative to some specific activity/event already introduced into the discourse. If "later" is simply being used to reference a future time relative to now, the word "on" is less likely to be added. –  FumbleFingers Dec 1 '11 at 18:49

As I see it, a hanging preposition. Occasionally "later on" may have a cadence that complements the rest of a sentence, but I see this as redundant language similar to "advocating for" rather than simply "advocating" (in most uses).

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It's not a preposition, it's an adverb, and it's not "hanging". It may be redundant, but I think it has a prosodic and possible affective function which I'm still thinking about. –  Colin Fine Dec 1 '11 at 18:04

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