Moveable bridges are the ones that can move, to allow the boats, etc. pass, like this one:

enter image description here

For such purposes, the traffic on the road needs to be stopped, so that the bridge moves and allows the water traffic to pass.

Once when I was cycling, trying to cross the bridge, I noticed they had blocked the entrance to the bridge by putting signs and bands. I asked one of the technicians over there if the bridge is going to be opened, (meaning to see if they will fold(!?)/move the bridge away), to which he replied: "It will, but after midnight. You better take the other road".

This conversation was quite confusing, since each of us meant something totally different by the two words "open" and "close"; and "move" is somehow more general because it can refer to the both status changes, rather than specifying the current/next state; especially if you're having a conversation about this later to someone who wasn't there to see the situation.

Is there a clear alternative to use for this situation (when the bridge moves away), other than open, close, or move?

Update: I've already seen the Wikipedia article on moveable bridges, including the various bridge types and the names, and the verb move that's been used generally all over the article, but I would like a clear, preferably single-word verb to explain this independent of being on the roadway or the waterway, and avoiding using a phrase or a whole sentence to explain this.

  • 1
    Your error is assuming that open/closed refers exclusively to road traffic. The swing bridge also opens or closes traffic on the river, and you need to be clear on that.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 18, 2014 at 18:51
  • If you were to say "raised" it would be understood, even though it is not physically accurate. Most listeners would be able to correctly infer that you were speaking of the action of a moveable bridge of some sort, and that you may not have been aware of the implementation of that specific bridge but you still are asking about the action of the bridge moving to allow water traffic through. At worst a pedantic might respond, "well, technically this one swivels, but yes, we will, stick around and watch!"
    – Jason C
    Jul 19, 2014 at 1:24

9 Answers 9


The answer is in the definition of drawbridge:

a bridge of which the whole or a section may be raised, lowered, or drawn aside, to prevent access or to leave a passage open for boats, barges, etc.

Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/

Moveable bridge and drawbridge are synonymous but drawbridge is also a specific type of movable bridge. It is the most common type.

Also, you might use different verbs for some of the specific types of movable bridge. The picture you provided is a swing bridge and you might use turn or rotate.

"Open" and "close" depends on the point of view. You would say "open for cars" or "open for boats" to be clear about what you mean. This is also mentioned in the definition of drawbridge.

Note: There isn't a single verb that you can use for all movable bridges and that would clarify the situation, at least not in common usage. There is an adjective trafficable which defines something that can be traveled upon but it wouldn't be used in everyday speech.

I can see the usage of connect/disconnect and lock/unlock in technical usages but these terms are more related to the mechanisms of movable bridge than accessibility.

  • The picture is of a swing bridge, but the principle is the same. Jul 18, 2014 at 15:27
  • 2
    +1 "Open" and "close" depends on the point of view. This is the key point of the original misunderstanding.
    – KnightHawk
    Jul 18, 2014 at 18:16
  • 1
    @JosephNeathawk I think the real key point of the original misunderstanding is actually that the bridge was closed to traffic (not in the sense that it moves, but in the sense that it was blocked, independently of waterway activity) for other reasons, and asking if the bridge will "open" strongly suggests a reference to the blockade and lane closures in context, much more strongly than it suggests a reference to movable bridge action.
    – Jason C
    Jul 19, 2014 at 1:34
  • Thank you. I think this is the most helpful answer, apart from @WS2's answer which is helpful, but doesn't satisfy me enough to use with this type of the bridge. (:
    – Neeku
    Jul 21, 2014 at 14:43

Swing bridges such as the one in the illustration you've borrowed from Wikipedia (or perhaps they borrowed it from you ?) are swung. I think that the position of the bridge when it is swung open, or swung closed, depends on whether you are on the roadway or on the waterway.

Lifting bridges, of which draw bridges are a type, may be lifted or raised and lowered.


It is not a single-word answer, but to prevent ambiguity I would suggest calling the bridge “open” or “closed” to road traffic or to maritime traffic. And if you are cycling, it makes sense to ask “When will the bridge be open to road traffic?”—which is what your “technician” seems quite sensibly to have assumed you meant.

  • Or, "when will the bridge (next) be in (or out) of road service/maritime service?"
    – Merk
    Jul 19, 2014 at 4:52

When I lived in Great Yarmouth, the townsfolk would say simply 'the bridge is up', meaning the main bridge over the harbour had been lifted to allow ships to pass.

If people arrived late for work a frequent excuse was that 'the bridge was up'.

If traffic was passing over it normally 'the bridge was not up'. I can never remember any confusion over what was meant.

Haven Bridge Great Yarmouth

  • Haha! I like the excuse part! Was it one of those that went literally upwards to allow the water traffic?
    – Neeku
    Jul 18, 2014 at 16:43
  • @Neeku It lifted at each end, separating in the middle, like London's Tower Bridge. I have posted a link.
    – WS2
    Jul 18, 2014 at 17:19
  • This still depends on the type of bridge. That phrase is understandable in that area because it is a bascule bridge.
    – ermanen
    Jul 18, 2014 at 17:25
  • It only makes sense to say that the bridge is "up" or "down" if it's a lifting bridge. The bridge pictured in the question is a swing bridge, which moves from side to side, not up and down. Jul 19, 2014 at 13:07
  • @Josh 61. I appreciate your helpful editing, but the bridge in question is called 'Haven Bridge', not 'Heaven Bridge'. The latter sounds as though it might be in Beijing!
    – WS2
    Jul 19, 2014 at 19:58

The confusion is that you meant "Is the bridge going to move?" but the technician understood "Is the road going to be usable?" which is the answer he would expect most people to want. "I want to use the road" not "I'm interested in the mechanics of bridges".

When the bridge is in the "open" position the road is closed. When the bridge is in the "closed" position the road is open!

Technically correct answer (one word for all cases): say "move"

Easier answer: say "raise" and accept being corrected

Otherwise use a word appropriate for each type of bridge: "raise", "swing", etc.


Unfortunately, the term moving bridge is inaccurate. A better term would be operatable bridge to indicate the bridge has multiple configurations which may change with different usages. Changing the usage of the bridge is operating the bridge, which remains in the same location throughout all of its operations.

In the particular case of the swing bridge used to illustrate this inquiry, it is not the entire bridge that moves, but only the bridge deck. Rotate is a more precise verb for the deck’s movement. The descriptors riverwise and roadwise might be used, as analogues of lengthwise, to indicate the rotated position of the bridge deck in favor of river traffic or of road traffic, respectively. So, one might say the deck is rotated riverwise to allow boat traffic or it is rotated roadwise for vehicle traffic.

  • It doesn't matter whether it is more or less accurate. Google ngrams shows that moving bridge has always been more prevalent than operating bridge, except for the period 1905-12 and the 1920's.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 19, 2014 at 20:06
  • But neither phrase is common. Neither occurs even once in the COCA or BNC corpora.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 19, 2014 at 20:09

For the least ambiguity and greatest recognition, I would describe the bridge as a:

Crossing - A place at which one may safely cross something (Source: Google)

Fairly unambiguous alternatives:

“When will the crossing be accessible?”

“When will the crossing be available?”

“When can we use the crossing?”

“When can we cross the bridge?”

As an unnecessary bonus, I'm also recommending two words that can be used to describe the boolean state of the bridge. The bridge can be either:

  • 1
    You don't have to retain your "Old Answer" if you feel it wasn't right. You are quite at liberty to edit and replace it, including part of the old answer in a new answer if you want. It's preferable to do that, rather than leave it to others' interpretation of what part "is still relevant". Make your entire answer relevant.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 19, 2014 at 19:28

Unfortunately, the standard terms here are "open" and "close" the bridge. Normally, this is unambiguous, though perhaps a little confusing since, when the bridge is open, it's closed to road traffic and, when it's closed, it's not. You were in a rare situation where it was ambiguous. Any phrase that always means "Are you about to put the bridge in the configuration that allows ships to pass?" rather than "Are you about to remove the barricades across the road?" is going to be somewhat convoluted.


... to relocate ?

This moves a moveable bridge without opening, closing, swinging, drawing, raising, lowering, turning, rotating, folding, unfolding, connecting, unconnecting, spanning, un-spanning, sliding, unsliding, trafficating, de-trafficating, de-bridging and bridging, .....

I believe that moveable bridges are relocateable and can be relocated.


  • 2
    When something is relocated, it changes location. The bridge is still in the same location whether it is swung one way or another way. Jul 18, 2014 at 18:49
  • But, for the sake of linguistic debate, when a bridge has been opened it is no longer a 'bridge' as it does not span the gap from one point to another. Jul 18, 2014 at 20:18
  • The philosophical concern of whether such a bridge is still a bridge is, I am pretty sure, irrelevant to whether or not "relocate" was the right word to describe how it got into that state. Jul 18, 2014 at 22:02

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