Sunday, June 22, 2014

Confusing words - near, nearby, close, next

Students sometimes get confused when to use near or nearby, near (to) or close to, and nearest or next. Master the differences with these three exercises.

Near and nearby

Both near and nearby can be used as adjectives and adverbs to mean close in position, a short distance from somebody or something, not far away.


If we want to use a simple adjective or adverb to describe nearness, we use nearby.
  • My parents live in a nearby village.
  • They live nearby.
  • The village where thy live is nearby.
Note that nearby can be used before or after a noun.
  • We ate at a nearby pub.
  • We ate at a pub nearby.


If we use a modifier such as quite, very etc with an adverb or after the verb be we usually use near.
  • My parents live very near.
  • The village where they live is very near.
We usually only use near as an adjective to refer closeness of time but not to closeness of position, except in superlatives and when we are comparing near with far.
  • I'll be seeing him in the near future.
  • The nearest garage is miles away.
  • The near side of the Moon.
Near, but not nearby, can also be used as a preposition.
  • They live very near us.
  • The village they live in is quite near us.
  • Our son's school is quite near our house.
Exercise 1Choose the correct word to fill the gap
Click or tap on the appropriate word
1. The people sitting were making a lot of noise.
near - nearby
2. That sounded rather !
near - nearby
3. They live somewhere the next roundabout.
near - nearby
4. I noticed someone standing staring at me.
near - nearby
5. There are plenty of shops where we live.
near - nearby
6. Don't worry! The car's parked quite !
near - nearby
7. We could see cows grazing in a field.
near - nearby
8. There are several shops .
near - nearby
9. She warned the children not to go the canal.
near - nearby
10. I wonder if there's a pub . I could murder a beer.
near - nearby
11. Are you going anywhere the city centre?
near - nearby
12. A bird was singing somewhere .
near - nearby
13. We heard voices as we drew the village.
near - nearby
14. From a building we could hear the sound of a fire alarm.
near - nearby
15. We're all meeting at that pub the station.
near - nearby

Notes on nearby and near.

Nearby with the verb be.

We can use nearby after be, but often prefer other constructions, such as there is/are or, in a more formal style, putting nearby at the beginning (fronting).
  • Several shops are nearby.
  • There are several shops nearby
  • Nearby are several shops.

Comparatives and superlatives

With comparatives or superlatives we always use near:
  • I'm warning you - don't come any nearer!
  • She took a step nearer.
  • The nearest bus stop is a mile away.
We can also use comparative and superlative forms as prepositions:
  • Come and sit nearer (to) the fire.
  • Which bus stop is nearest (to) your house?

Both near and nearby are often used with somewhere and anywhere.

  • He must be somewhere nearby; he's only been gone a minute.
  • He heard a sound somewhere nearby, but wasn't sure where it it was coming from.
  • Is there a chemist's anywhere nearby?
  • They live somewhere near the next roundabout.
  • We heard a loud bang somewhere very near.
  • There isn't a cinema anywere near here.

Near and close

The adjectives near and close often have the same meaning, but in some phrases only one may be used:
Exercise 2Use your instinct to choose the correct word to fill the gap
Click or tap on the appropriate word
1. I'll be seeing him in the the future.
near - close
2. She had a encounter with a ghost.
near - close
3. They're friends of my father's.
near - close
4. He's a neighbour of ours
near - close
5. Phew! That was a miss.
near - close
6. They're a family.
near - close
7. The match was a contest
near - close
8. It was a call.
near - close
There's a useful usage note at Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (link below).

Near, by and next to

By and next to are closer than near. If they live near the park, it's probably within walking distance, but they can't necessarily see it. If they live by the park, their house is probably next to it.
  • Their house is near the park.
  • Their house is by the park.
  • Their house is next to the park.

Nearest and next

(The) nearest means the closest in space, time or relationship, whereas (the) next means 'the one after this/that one' in a series of events, places or people. There are a couple of fixed expressions where next is also used for place.
Exercise 3Use your instinct to choose the correct word to fill the gap
Click or tap on the appropriate word
1. When is your appointment?
nearest - next
2. Inverness, the big town to the village, is twenty miles away.
nearest - next
3. When we get to the services area we better stop for petrol.
nearest - next
4. Turn left at the set of traffic lights after this one.
nearest - next
5. The bus stop to the house is about a mile away.
nearest - next
6. We're getting off at the stop.
nearest - next
7. Her rival was six points behind her.
nearest - next
8. They live door to us.
nearest - next
9. Come over here and sit to me.
nearest - next
10. Do you know where the supermarket is?
nearest - next
11. If you can't find any Roquefort, get the best thing.
nearest - next
12. It was the thing to Roquefort I could find.
nearest - next
There's a useful usage note at Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (link below).

Notes on nearest (to) and next to

The prepositions nearest to and next to have a very similar meaning, but there's a small difference.
  • It's in the drawer nearest (to) the fridge. (= of all the drawers in the kitchen)
  • It's in the drawer next to the fridge. (= right beside the fridge)
  • .

Near or near to?

In British English, the preposition near can be used with or without to (although to seems uncommon in American English). When talking about about physical closeness we usually leave it off:
  • The pub is very near the station.
  • Come and sit near me.
But when we are using near more metaphorically, we prefer near to (or close to):
  • She was near to tears / close to tears
  • I came very near to / close to calling the whole thing off
We usually use nearer and nearest with to, although it can be dropped in a more informal style.
  • She moved nearer (to) the fire.
  • It's in the drawer nearest (to) the fridge.
Note that we always use to with close and next when they are being used as prepositions:
  • She sat close to the fire.
  • Her brother sat next to her.

'Nearby to' is better avoided

You might very occasionally see 'nearby to' + clause. Here is an example at Google Books:
  • In those times it was relatively easy to find work nearby to where a person lived.
And Daily Writing Tips found this example:
  • Nearby to the pub is the “hidden” 13th century church of St John the Baptist.
But most native speakers prefer a simple near:
  • In those times it was relatively easy to find work near where a person lived.
  • Near the pub is the “hidden” 13th century church of St John the Baptist.



Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary




H...R said...

Hi, Will,

Thanks for your help on WR F with those “mushrooms”. You helped me a lot. Between us, the mushrooms were worse than poisonous – there were fake. The original text is about something different; I just couldn’t untangle those tenses. I am lucky that I’ve discovered your blog; I will use it as an ally in my uphill battle with your mother tongue.

Thank you,


Warsaw Will said...

Glad I could help. I just wish I was doing as well learning your mother tongue.

H...R said...

God luck.
BTW, this post and the word “next”. This short word is felt (or perceived) differently by Poles. We are usually taught that its meaning is “następny” (second in the row) rather than “najbliższy” (the nearest one). Effect? Thousands of gallons of wasted fuel. Every Pole, after seeing the road sign: “Take next exit”, passes the nearest one and takes the second exit, which he perceives as “next”. Believe me, this is not a Polish joke. I learned what the word “next” means after my thousandth U turn.

Warsaw Will said...

Hi, you might also be interested in this post about different, other, another, next, which I find can also be confusing for Polish learners. And then of course there are things like 'druga strona', which for us is 'the other side'.

I'd never realised that about 'następny', always assuning it was simply 'next'.

Unknown said...

Wow, thanks for the great explanation. It helps me a lot understand the differences. I only have one question. Why do you use "at" in "Google Books"? Shouldn't it instead be "in Google Books"?

Here is an example at Google Books.
Here is an example in Google. Books.
Here is an example on Google Books.

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China Boy said...

You wrote "Both near and nearby can be used as adjectives and adverbs to mean close in position, a short distance from somebody or something, not far away."

I disagree.

Near cannot be an adjective.
Near is a preposition (My house is near the supermarket)
and also can be an adverb (Summer is near.)

Nearby can be an adjective (There is a restaurant nearby)
and also an adverb (My house is nearby).

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