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While asking for the location of my airport’s window in the United States, I was told that it was over the bridge.

My first impression was that it must be above the bridge, but since there was nothing above the bridge, I started walking towards the bridge and saw that it was on the other side of the bridge.

After coming back I went through the dictionary and found the “other side of ” meaning of the word above, which I did not know earlier. That is weird because over is used all the time.

Which of those two meaning is the more common usage of over, above something or on the other side of it?

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closed as general reference by tchrist, MετάEd, Mark Beadles, JSBձոգչ, Robusto Dec 4 '12 at 22:04

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
All dictionaries list word meanings from common to obscure; at least they try to do so. This is not a trivial task at all. Personally, I wonder of what use this information is to you anyway. For all intents and purposes, you might as well toss a coin and be done. It has a 50% chance of getting it right, and another 50% of getting it wrong without anybody noticing. At the end of the day, you still have to memorize all meanings of the word, and check against them all in every context. –  RegDwigнt Dec 2 '12 at 22:41
    
"Across the bridge". –  user21497 Dec 2 '12 at 22:48
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Never make the mistake of assuming a small preposition has only one meaning. Most of them, in fact, have over a dozen, at least. –  J.R. Dec 3 '12 at 10:21
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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Prepositions have many different senses, even when we consider just the ones relating to spatial and temporal usages.

Over has at least three very common spatial usages:

  • There was a dark cloud over the lake (= above). (locative sense a)

  • The airport was situated over the river (= on the other side). (locative sense b)

  • The geese had to fly over an arm of the lake on their journey south. (= across to the other side). (directional, sense c)

Usually, which meaning is meant is clear from context, but one has to take care to avoid the possible ambiguities I'm sure you're wary of:

The plane flew over the lake.

The AHDEL contains a refinement (2b) and at least one additional directional sense (2c):

o·ver (vr) prep.

1 In or at a position above or higher than: a sign over the door; a hawk gliding over the hills. [(a) above]

2 a. Above and across from one end or side to the other: a jump over the fence.[(c) above] b. To the other side of; across: strolled over the bridge. c. Across the edge of and down: fell over the cliff. 3. On the other side of: a village over the border. [(b) above]

Looking up the article gives some idea of the complexities of usages of just this one preposition, with temporal and then more derivative, ending with peripheral, usages:

  • stayed over the holidays
  • over ten miles away
  • chat over coffee
  • talk over the phone
  • argument over methods
  • a victory over sin
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Add a source ref –  jwpat7 Dec 2 '12 at 22:40
    
@J.R.: The MWV example too peripheral? –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '12 at 10:44
    
Edwin: feel free to undo some of those edits if you don't like them. I just thought you were only scratching the surface, and took the liberty of adding a few extra uses. I don't think I realized those extra uses were from an outside source, so I might have mucked that up. –  J.R. Dec 3 '12 at 10:49
    
No problems - I always call the prepositiony- or adverby-thing in a MWV a particle anyway (if I feel the need to give it a name). I was trying to give a series along a cline from prototypical to peripheral usages, the most peripheral being in opaque idioms - but I've read an article by someone who spent at least a year analysing just such a continuum. There's just not the time. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '12 at 16:40
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My question is that which of these meaning is more common usage? Above or on the other side?

Quite simply, it depends on context.

When used with "the bridge", though, I would generally expect over the bridge to mean across the bridge, not above the bridge. Same with "the river" – I would expect that the phrase over the river refers to on the other side of the river, not above the river. Why? Rivers are spanned, and bridges span rivers, so that's the point of reference my mind jumps to when I hear those phrases.

Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go...

Of course, any exceptions can be inferred from context, too:

Those clouds sure look pretty over the river.
Look at that house over the river!

It's pretty apparent that the meaning of over in the first sentence means above, and, in the second sentence, it means across. But I suppose those could be faulty assumptions, too. For example, look at this house over the river:

enter image description here

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