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My sister got this question for one of her tests.

There are many obstacles __ the road to success.

Her options were:

  1. across
  2. along

I initially thought that across would make more sense here, as it conveys the meaning “from one side of the road to the other” as in a block of wood placed across my path. However, across could also mean “on the other side” as in “I live across the road”. Therefore, across seems like the more ambiguous term here when compared to along.

Along, therefore, seems like the better choice here. However, it can be argued that along doesn’t necessarily give the impression that the obstacles “cross” my path.

What would be the appropriate term here?

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I think the most natural thing to say — and the least ambiguous, too — would be neither across nor along, but on. Not sure who came up with the test and why. –  RegDwigнt Jun 4 '12 at 19:30
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I don't think either is right. When I hear "along the road", I think of something at the side of the road, which wouldn't be an obstacle since it wouldn't block your way. As @Reg says, for something to block your way, it would have to be "in the road" or "on the road". And "across the road" generally means on the other side of the road, which doesn't make sense here, either. Google Ngram here. –  Peter Shor Jun 4 '12 at 22:36
    
@Peter- I think the expression comes from along the way and therefore along makes more sense here. –  Noah Jun 5 '12 at 7:08
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6 Answers

Either is appropriate, and in my opinion equally so, depending on whether you are trying to emphasis the blockage of the obstacles or the length of the road along which they appear.

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Along the road to success is a fairly common phrase, getting 2,000,000 results on a Google search of that exact phrase. I would choose along.

enter image description here

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Funny, I only get 122,000 by following your link. And only 1030 for "obstacles along the road to success". (And only one single hit for "obstacles across the road to success", but a whopping 13000 for "obstacles on the road to success".) –  RegDwigнt Jun 4 '12 at 19:36
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@RegDwightΒВBẞ8, Hmm...not sure what that's about. I added a screenshot. –  JLG Jun 4 '12 at 19:44
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I have asked a user from the US for help, her figures are 2 million for "Along the road to success" and 2880/1/76600 for "obstacles along/across/on the road to success". Edit: more people keep coming in with different figures still. Direct link to chat discussion. –  RegDwigнt Jun 4 '12 at 19:45
    
@RegDwightΒВBẞ8, always get this number on all 3 computers I have access to, and three different browsers, both using the link and just typing in the phrase myself. (I'm in the U.S.) –  JLG Jun 4 '12 at 20:10
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Along the road to success is by far the more common choice: enter image description here

ngram viewer

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On the road to success is even more common. –  Peter Shor Jun 4 '12 at 22:35
    
@PeterShor, That may be, but it was not one of the options available to the OP's sister. –  JLG Jun 4 '12 at 23:55
    
Personally, I don't think either choice is good, but along is certainly better. If you look at Ngrams, you see that obstacles are usually either in or on the road, very occasionally along the road, and almost never across the road. –  Peter Shor Jun 5 '12 at 0:01
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In your example of...

I live across the road

The road itself is the obstacle. You are not travelling the road as a path, you are traversing it as it is something between you and your destination.

When referring to...

There are many obstacles _ the road to success

The road is a path, and you are focused on travelling along that path as a long term goal. You are talking about travelling along this road. The point of the statement is not to focus on the individual obstacles, but rather the more general fact that there will be obstacles on this path itself... which is the focus. If you were to change the sentence to be about a specific obstacle, then you could choose to use "across", as it would describe that individual obstacle. Let's say...

A lack of college education is an obstacle across the road to success.

There, the focus is on the obstacle, more than the path.

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I can certainly see a logical argument for why one should say "across": the obstacles lie across the road. But in practice that's not what people say, they say "along the road".

I presume the origin of the phrase is that, independent of the presence of obstacles, we routinely talk about "travelling along the road". If you encounter an obstacle while travelling along the road, then there must be obstacles along the road.

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I just envisioned six lanes of runner's hurdles. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jun 4 '12 at 21:39
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Ngrams and "which-is-more-common" arguments aside, I would choose along.

Why? The road to success is a long one, and that road must be traveled down, not crossed, in order for success to be reached. I know we're speaking metaphorically, but I don't think one would run across the "road to success" in order to achieve success, but that (unless we're talking about the videogame Frogger) one would travel down that road instead.

Moreover, I don't believe it would be a smooth road – at least, not all the way from start to finish. Instead, I'd expect to run across several obstacles along the way.

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