I have heard the following used often

Over the course of the semester, ...

but a friend recently told me

Through the course of the semester, ...

Are both of these usages of the idiom acceptable? I feel like the second one is strange while the first one is acceptable.

3 Answers 3


The first is certainly acceptable. Although I've heard the second example used, in my opinion it's not correct. It may perhaps be most charitably read as "through[out] the course of the semester", which is fine.

  • Agreed. 8 times as many links for the natural sounding #1 compared to the odd sounding #2.
    – dcaswell
    Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 3:55
  • 1
    As this is an English Language & Usage site, please use standard English formatting & capitalisation for sentences: it makes answers much easier to read.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 10:37
  • 1
    @TrevorD — fair enough. In an on-screen context I have a preference for the newly-emerging conventions, but perhaps this isn’t the place to be avant-garde. (I’d add an emoticon here, but somehow it seems as though it might come across as disingenuous!)
    – simon
    Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 11:15

I wonder if each of these phrases could potentially mean something different.

For example, if I say that I took five prescriptions over the course of a month, would that be the same as saying that I took five prescriptions through the course of a month? Use of the word through seems to suggest that all prescriptions were taken until the end of the month. Use of the word over does not seem to suggest this.

  • 1
    I think this response is intended as an answer, but the interrogative and tentative wording makes it seem closer to a question. You can strengthen it by making a clearer argument in support of the notion that "prescriptions through the course of a month" and "prescriptions over the course of a month" have different meanings—preferably with corroboration from a third-party authority such as a reference book.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 21:31

I believe they are both correct. The difference between them is how time is treated. "over the course of" emphasizes that during this designated period of time, a thing occurs. Elapsed time and stated occurrence/s on a whole is the intended message. In contrast, "through the course of", particularly emphasizes a more real-time, perhaps thorough, and/or minutiae-based treatment of said occurrence/s during said designated period of time.

I think the difference in meaning and typical usage is due possibly to the connotations/implications of each phrases' respective prepositions: "over" & " through". Contrasting the two, the preposition "over" could more easily be interpreted as clearing, i.e. being/going/moving above, not or no longer having to interact with nor be impeded by X to same degree as when level with it, whereas the preposition "through" may often involve having to navigate one or a myriad of objects, areas, situations, etc, thereby perhaps requiring active focus, attention, and care in order to successfully complete the action; thus, resulting in the effect of being taken into a real-time continuous framework, allowing for detail and elaboration beyond the general, if you choose to do so, since you are going "through" it and not "over" it.

With that said, you don't have to add anything extra or nuanced when using "through the course of" as opposed to "over the course of", it's really just flavoring.

I hope that wasn't too convoluted; I had to parse it out in my head, but I think I'm in the ballpark.

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