"waiting for" vs. "waiting on"

This question was inspired by the thread “in to” vs. “into”

It drives me crazy when I hear something like, “I was waiting on so-and-so to get back to me about my question.”

To me, this is a clear example where one should use “waiting for”. The phrase “waiting on” refers specifically to the sort of thing done by waiters and waitresses. It is an act of service, to stand by someone, and wait for their instructions.

A lieutenant might wait on a general while the general decides what to do next. But one does not wait on an Amazon driver who has the thing he ordered; he waits for the Amazon driver.

I do realize that many people feel differently than me on this, so I’m not going to accuse that usage of being wrong. But maybe it is more common among some groups than others? Might it be a geographic thing and age thing?

While I agree with you on this one, you have to realize that prepositions have usages (I won’t say meanings) that vary widely with dialect. Why does a New Yorker wait on line while I wait in line?

The New Yorker waits in line, regardless of what he may say he’s doing. He’s just wrong.

I get the since that “waiting on” is often used to in situations in which someone can’t proceed until something happens. So in answer to the question “What are you doing?” you might say “I’m waiting for the bus” but in answer to the question “Why are you just standing there?” the answer “I’m waiting on the bus” indicates that you’d be happy to be moving towards your goal, but you can’t - until the bus gets here.

Since waiters who are “waiting on” someone can’t take an order back to the kitchen until the customer gets off his phone and actually places the order, a waiter is often “waiting on” - in both senses…

Prepositions are completely arbitrary but for some reason, in our minds, our usage is correct and others are wrong. For example, I live on Garnet Street. Someone in Britain might say I live in Garnet Street. That sounds crazy to me but, if I think about it rationally, both are wrong and I actually live beside Garnet Street.

I would use “waiting on” in all of those situations, though I could also use “waiting for.” There seems to be some semantic difference, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

The other meaning of “waiting on” is one I would not expect to be used. Yes, a waiter is technically waiting on people, but I wouldn’t expect it to be described that way. It only remains common in idiom, like “I’ve been waiting on her hand and foot.” The waiter also waits tables, with no preposition. But if you described a waiter as waiting on customers, I would interpret that as the same as waiting for customers.

I don’t know the geographical or historical aspects of this usage, but it seems quite well established to me where I live, here in northern Arkansas.

Reminds me of the lyric “Our house, in the middle of the street” - which to an American sounds like the house is blocking traffic, but apparently just means that it’s partway down the block.

Excellent responses, everyone.

But keep 'em coming! Don’t let my response be an excuse to stop!

Do you go to the hospital or go to hospital? Both completely valid, neither one is inherently wrong. They depend on context. Language changes, and the original example is an extremely mild one IMO. You should of picked a better example.

I’m an American, and that interpretation never occurred to me. (And, nitpick: it’s "in the middle of our street,: which may or may not change how one interprets it.)

Mick Jagger was waiting on a friend. Although Wikipedia tells me that “Recording of ‘Waiting on a Friend’ (as ‘Waiting for a Friend’) began in late 1972…” So how and why did the preposition get changed?

For me, also an American, it’s always sounded like the house is physically in the middle of a street when they sang “in the middle of our street.” Like here, in Chicago, you would say our house is in the middle of our block, or (probably more usually) halfway up the block/street.

Thanks for the correction on the lyrics.

The comments here Separated by a Common Language: in the middle of our street/block have Americans who understand the idiom and English folk who don’t so maybe it’s not a division by nation.

I totally agree with the OP. It’s always bugged me to hear people say they’re “waiting on” someone, unless they are actually service people.

I grew up in Chicago and always used “waiting for”. When I went to college in Quincy IL I soon noticed that “waiting on” was more common there. At some point I learned that this was because the area was mostly settled by German immigrants, who translated the German “warte auf” as “waiting on” instead of “waiting for”.

Same here. In general, I would say that “waiting for” is more common than “waiting on” but I can’t think of a situation where only one of the two constructions sound correct.

But if I had to distinguish, I would say that “waiting for” sounds more generic - you can wait for anything: a person, an event, the passage of time (in fact, I’d almost be willing to say that “I’m waiting for 6pm before I eat dinner” sounds right but "I’m waiting on 6pm before I eat dinner’ sounds a bit weird).

“Waiting on” implies that a definite action needs to occur. For example - “I’m waiting for more people to arrive [and they may do so at random intervals here and there]” sounds better than “I’m waiting on more people to arrive.”

But, “I’m waiting on the court to issue a ruling” sounds as good and maybe even a little better than “I’m waiting for the court to issue a ruling.” To me, you “wait on” a specific action/event/occurance, which will then lead to a specific action/response on your part. “Wait for” lacks that precision.

I’m not sure I really believe any of the above, though. I’m waiting for a linguistics expert to offer a better response :slight_smile:

As much as I like saying, “The English invented a language they cannot speak”, they indeed invented the language, and I believe we should defer to them.

Interesting. I spent a lot of time in eastern Pennsylvania, which also had a lot of German immigration, so that may be why I’ve also heard “waiting on”

Luxury! We lived under the street.

We dreamed of havin’ a street to live under.