I am aware that the commonly used preposition following the word "interpretations" is "of", but is using "on" also grammatically correct? I have seen the word "on" being used on several occasions.

For example:

  1. There are various interpretations of his actions.
  2. There are various interpretations on his actions.

If possible, please provide evidence for the answer and also examples from English literature.

  • You say I have seen the word "on" being used on several occasions. Could you please give examples with the source and context?
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 9:43
  • From a wiktionary search (I copied and pasted the phrases in which the usage was present; I'm not exactly sure what context to give): "Historical interpretations on Napoleon" "New interpretations on Celtic and Non–Celtic personal names" Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 11:58
  • But the first source is an educational website with a page discussing Napoleon, and the second was an academic paper. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 12:02
  • 2
    The first is a title "Historical interpretations on Napoleon". Titles and headlines are not subject to normal syntactical guidance - "Napoleon" in this context on means "on the subject of the life, times, and military and political history of Napoleon." in this use, "on" it is the same as "Historical interpretations on the Punic Wars." Or "An essay on Publius Quinctilius Varus." In your example 2, "on" would be inappropriate. __ Of carries the general meaning of "associated with" and your example 1 is correct.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 15:32
  • Ok, I see. Thank you. Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 12:18

1 Answer 1


Generally, the correct preposition to use after interpretation is of. We thus speak of the interpretations of a Biblical passage, of a provision of the U.S. Constitution, of a dream, of a complex work of art. Generally, using on in place of of in such a context, can be dismissed as simply a mistake.

Why might one, nevertheless, sometimes want to use on in such a context? The key is that we sometimes speak of imposing an interpretation on something that does not obviously call for an interpretation. Somebody's actions (the OP's own example) may, at first sight, seem unremarkable, and then somebody may offer an account that purports to reveal something unobvious about their purposes—in such a case, we can say that an interpretation has been imposed on these actions. There is then a natural step from speaking about imposing an interpretation on the actions to speaking of it as an interpretation on the actions. Whether this step is to be welcomed or deplored is likely to be a matter of opinion, but it is certainly understandable.

  • So is using "on" in that sentence still grammatically correct? Or do you mean that it is disputed? Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 10:45
  • 1
    @PubliusQuinctiliusVarus, using on in this way is probably too rare for its correctness to be actually disputed. If you were to use it, chances are that you would make at least some people cringe; if you want to make sure that you don't cause such a reaction, use of.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 0:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.