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Which one is correct?

  1. I met my future wife on this very American traditional occasion.
  2. I met my future wife during this very American traditional occasion.
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closed as general reference by Carlo_R., Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Kris, Hugo, MετάEd Nov 25 '12 at 9:26

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Both sentences are grammatical. Have you checked the dictionary definitions of "on" and "during"? If so, please edit your question to explain what you didn't understand, otherwise I think this question will be closed as "General reference". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 23 '12 at 15:41
Mr. Shiny - I understand the fundamental difference between the two prepositions though their stylistic usage in this very sentence was not clear to me. Mr. Google returned just two hits for "on this very traditional occasion" search and that is an immediate red flag. My question has been answered and thus the question can be closed. Thank you. – SunnyBoyNY Nov 23 '12 at 16:43
up vote 5 down vote accepted

During is an unusual preposition in that it can only have an object that refers to a duration of Time -- there are fewer than ten words in English that have exclusive time reference, and many of them come from the same root as during. It is also unusual in that it's almost never metaphorical. Objects of during will be interpreted as temporal references:

  • during the service, during dinner, during Summer, during the night

Occasionally one must strain to interpret them that way in context:

  • during the aardvark, during B♭ Minor, during John Cassavetes, during NaOH

That's the problem with using during with occasion as its object. Which temporal part of the "occasion" is being referred to? The dinner, the visiting, the travelling, or what? Occasion normally refers to a notation on a calendar -- a 2-Dimensional metaphor -- rather than something with a temporal duration of its own.

On, on the other hand, requires some two-dimensional surface as an object, and produces a location that is above and in contact with that surface:

  • on the sidewalk, on the lawn, on the desk[top], on the page, on the bed

but on is more usually metaphorical, and will work with anything that can be metaphorized to such a surface, which includes just about anything:

  • on the subject of, on the Watson story, on the NYSE, on HBO, on Black Friday

The last example shows how we use all three Spatial dimensions to refer to Time in English. In general,

  • Months and larger measures are Containers -- 3-D: in 1949, in June, in this century
  • Days are Surfaces -- 2-D: on Thursday, on Thanksgiving, on this occasion
  • Smaller measures are Points on a 1-D line: at noon, at 12:03:45, at the moment of death.
    A special case is at night, which refers to some indefinite moment in the dark, especially to states or events repeated on multiple nights. The dark itself is a volume: in the night/dark.

That's why on is better for occasion.

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On is definitely better for occasion, in every sense, even those that I couldn't articulate why (I hope it was clear in my answer). Maybe not, as I thought it was my preference for commemoration and fondness for the idea of marriage that might have biased my judgement. Your answer is awesome, by the way. I feel that mine is too ;o) Mine is not analytically sound, merely anecdotal and culturally/ traditionally based. But in combination... we have it covered, so to speak! – Ellie Kesselman Nov 23 '12 at 22:17
I am very much amazed by this description. The mentioned rules above will certainly guide me through similar problems where the suggested answer cannot be simply justified by how well such phrase sound. Thank you. – SunnyBoyNY Nov 24 '12 at 2:40

Both sentences are grammatical. There are two differences in usage, though slight.

The first sentence is slightly ambiguous:

I met my future wife on this very American traditional occasion

A traditional occasion is presumed, by definition, to be a recurring event. You may have met your future wife on the occurrence of the event, many years ago, or last month. It may have been in Omaha, just as likely as in Guam.

The second sentence,

I met my future wife during this very American traditional occasion

is more readily understood as a particular instance of the occasion. Both time and location are associated with specificity. So "during this occasion", would more likely imply "last month in Guam" versus "decades ago in Omaha", for example.

"During" rather than "on" is a less formal way of expressing something. For example, one would say, for a formal wedding invitation,

Mr. and Mrs. Blah request the pleasure of your attendance on the occasion of the marriage of their daughter, Blahbity.

I was surprised though, that "on" and "during" seem to be used interchangeably when I checked just now. The most common English language usages of "on the occasion of" were in Indian (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) wedding invitations. There was merely one traditional Roman Catholic wedding guide that I found. It used "on the occasion of". Even a wedding announcement posted in the informal venue of the Yahoo! Groups Geophysics forum used "on the occasion of"! I am personally most familiar with American English, and Jewish wedding invitations. They use "on the occasion of".

Regarding more general usage of "on the occasion of", whether weddings or commemoration of formal events, Fatwa Online and Defender of Sunna use "on the occasion of" (all English language websites). Also, Fatwa Online makes the distinction that "on the occasion of" refers to the general case of the occasion, rather than a specific instance, to which I alluded to above.

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Feral Oink, thank you for your answer as well. Your description has given me much an almost immediate insight into the differences in the meanings of the two sentences. – SunnyBoyNY Nov 24 '12 at 2:42
You are most welcome, @SunnyBoyNY I enjoyed answering your question, and hope that you will visit us again soon with additional questions (or answers)! – Ellie Kesselman Nov 24 '12 at 4:10

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