Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I found online the following:

Pedestrians are pushed off to the sides.

either in the middle or off to the sides.

Off to the sides were open fields.

...flows off to the sides of the...

...swam off to the sides.

Even people off to the sides of these stage speakers enjoy well-balanced, detailed sound...

...protesters would stand off to the sides yelling or booing...

Why not at the sides or simply to the sides? I understand swam off to the sides to mean swam away to the sides, but many others elude me.


Back to: "Pedestrians were pushed off to the sides". Interestingly, "push off" is also an idiom/phrasal verb with a totally different meaning. I imagine one can guess in our discussed case "pushed" and "off" are separate. That's one of the hardest things for non-native speakers of English, however, figuring out when those particles are part of the preceding verb, and when they are part of something else in a sencence. It adds to confusion. That's why you hardly ever hear non-natives using phrasal verbs and particles where the meaning is not very very very obvious. In addition I have not heard of a single book on the Enlish language explaining particles beyond the basics. Just saying.

share|improve this question
    
Something is "off to" the side beacuse it is away from the focus of what is being discussed/going on. –  Jim Nov 9 '11 at 20:13
add comment

3 Answers

"off":

1 down or away from a place or at a distance in space or time

I fell off the ladder. Keep off the grass! an island off the coast of Spain They were still 100 metres off the summit. Scientists are still a long way off finding a cure. We're getting right off the subject.

2 leading away from something, for example a road or room

We live off Main Street. There's a bathroom off the main bedroom.

3 used to say that something has been removed

You need to take the top off the bottle first! I want about an inch off the back of my hair.

Edit upon comment:

"at" is certainly static. It also implies higher precision of where somebody is standing. In the examples you write, the focus isn't on the people's exact position but on the fact that they are standing away from where the action is taking place.

I suspect that what bothers you is the use of the preposition "to" which is usually connected to movement. Since there is no further context, it might be possible that the people in your sentences are not totally immobile but are standing off at the sides readjusting their position (or forced to do so) to make sure that they will be away from the main focus.

share|improve this answer
1  
Thank you. Still I don't see the explanation for the most difficult ones: Even people off to the sides of these stage speakers enjoy well-balanced, detailed sound... ...protesters would stand off to the sides yelling or booing... Why "off" here? Nobody is moving anywhere in these examples. They already stand there. Why not "at the sides of speakers?" –  Neon Nov 9 '11 at 21:03
    
So if "people are off to the sides of stage speakers" what is the distance between them and the speakers? Are the people necessarily moving? And what are they off/away from? –  Neon Nov 9 '11 at 22:27
add comment

Compare:

Even people off to the sides of these stage speakers enjoy well-balanced, detailed sound...

to:

Even people to the sides of these stage speakers enjoy well-balanced, detailed sound...

In this case, there's the chance of misinterpretation if off is left out. It could sound like the people are directly at the sides of the stage speakers. Off to the sides, however, clarifies that there is distance at play and makes the sentence make more sense.

In other cases where it sounds unnecessary, it may be kept for sonorous purposes. In other words, we say it because it gives the feeling of the language flowing or maintains the rhythm of the sentence.

As another example, compare:

The attack came not from the monster before her, but from those off to the sides.

and

The attack came not from the monster before her, but from those to the sides.

In the first example, it's implying a long-range attack; are they shooting her with an arrow?

In the second example, it once again doesn't sound as far away. Maybe they're directly to either side of her or either side of the monster in front of her. In this case, it could conceivably be a close-range attack.

share|improve this answer
    
Thank you, I'm getting a much clearer picture now. How about this example: "The attack came not from the monster before her, but from those off to the sides." Before the attack, were the monsters some distance from her sides? If so, what distance? "The attack came not from the monster before her, but from those to the sides." Before the attack, were the monsters next to her sides (right beside her)? "The attack came not from the monster before her, but from those off at the sides." Is this one correct? –  Neon Nov 10 '11 at 14:15
    
Sorry for no formatting. It does not work whatever I do. –  Neon Nov 10 '11 at 14:25
1  
Or another example: "Pedestrians were pushed to the sides" means the people were still on the road, but towards the sides. "Pedestrians were pushed off to the sides" means the people were no longer on the road, but on the sidewalks. –  Marthaª Nov 10 '11 at 15:08
    
I've edited my answer to give additional detail based on your question @Neon. –  Kevin K. Nov 10 '11 at 18:47
1  
"The attack came not from the monster before her, but from those off to the sides." This comes from a popular novel. There was no long-range attack. The monsters were really close and then clawed at the hero between them. –  Neon Nov 10 '11 at 20:45
show 3 more comments

It's an unnecessary word and doesn't imply movement, but it is used to emphasize the distance just slightly. "Pedestrians pushed to the sides" makes sense. But "Pedestrians pushed off to the sides" means they are just farther away or that the speaker wants to emphasize that more.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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