10

Why isn't near, near to and nearby always interchangeable?

They can precede the noun.

  • I live nearby the railway station
  • I live near the railway station
  • I live near to the railway station

When they are adverbs they can follow noun + be

  • The railway station is nearby (my house)
  • The railway station is near my house
  • The railway station is near to my house

But we don't normally say:

?Meet me at the near railway station
or
?Meet me at the railway station near (to)

The accepted version is:

Meet me at the railway station nearby
Meet me at the nearby railway station

Why?

  • 'Nearby' is not (at least to my knowledge and after a cursory check) used as a preposition, so *I live nearby the railway station is, I'd say, ungrammatical. This usage is seen on the internet; the open compound preposition 'near by' has often been used: I live near by the railway station (cf the old-fashioned I live close by the railway station). Similarly, * The railway station is nearby my house is ungrammatical, though the (deictic) adverbial usage The railway station is nearby is fine. 'Near', like 'far', is normally just used (attributively) as a specifying adjective. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '14 at 8:55
  • @EdwinAshworth, interesting! I would never have thought that usage to be grammatically incorrect. It doesn't sound wrong to me though, could my north London roots be responsible? – Mari-Lou A Aug 20 '14 at 8:59
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    'Near by' doesn't sound very different from 'nearby'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '14 at 9:00
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    @EdwinAshworth The OED entry for near by | near-by | nearby happens to classify it as an adjective, an adverb, or a preposition, all depending on its use of course. However, it says that the preposition use means “Close to (a place, etc.). Now dial.” So it has receded to dialectal use. Probably it was in Mari-Lou’s dialect but not in your own. The OED provides these three citations demonstrating prepositional use: 1456 The citee of Hostrye..is nereby Rome. 1814 Near by the poet’s houseless head. 1889 He lives near by th’ Calvin capil. – tchrist Aug 20 '14 at 10:39
  • @tchrist None of these is the solid 'nearby' usage (I'm not going back to pre-1500). None is more recent than 1889. I've certainly encountered the MWP ('near by the station') usage, as I indicated above. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '14 at 13:52
5

Why isn't near, near to and nearby always interchangeable?

They can precede the noun. right

I follow the latest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

1)- near as an adjective: "the near[by] shop"

2)- near as an adverb: "he lives near", "the hour is near", "near dead"

3)- near as a preposition: "a house near the river"

in some contexts you can use near (to): "come near to me!" "*a house near/close to the station". US speakers prefer 'close to', and sometimes 'close to' sounds better anyway: e.g. "The situation is close to critical"

4)- 'nearby' is just an adverb. As a preposition it is dialectal, and a spelling variant of the adjectival phrase near by = 'close at hand'.

Those guidelines should solve most of your problems:

When they are adverbs they can follow the noun. wrong

  • The railway station is nearby [adverb]
  • The railway station is nearby my house. wrong
  • The railway station is near my house [preposition]
  • The railway station is near to my house [variant]

probably there is a typo, they never follow. If you are referring to station, remember that near is the predicate.

But we don't normally say:
?Meet me at the near railway station

(this is an adjective not an adverb)

The accepted version is:

Meet me at the railway station nearby (adverb)

Meet me at the nearby railway station (adjective)

Merriam-Webster also confirms that in the US nearby cannot be a preposition, therefore the examples in the other answer should be considered wrong, unless an explanation is provided.

  • He ran nearby a river.
  • She proceeded nearby him

These are prepositions and 'nearby' cannot be used as a preposition; 'alongside', 'near' is appropriate there. Besides this, the fact that the verb is in/transitive is not relevant: "she stood near" "she came near". What is fundamental is the distinction between 'adverb' and 'preposition'

For the case of whether "He ran near" is AmEng, I don't know. In terms of whether it is grammatical, I offer:

  1. near

    • can be used either transitively with a subject, or non-transitively without a subject:

    transitive: He ran near me.
    intransitive: He ran near.

This does not make sense. The verb is intransitive in both cases, in the first case the verb is intransitive and 'near' is a preposition. It is transitive here: "He ran a great race"

  • 2
    +1 for sheer effort. Thank you, your post has helped me. – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '14 at 6:13
  • I wouldn't say wrong for nearby as a preposition — the usage may be dialectal, as you note, but if it's dialectal, that means it is correct in some forms of English (which happens to include mine) – guifa Aug 21 '14 at 6:31
  • I always write "near by" when it's at the end of a sentence because it seems more obvious that it's adverbial. – Wolfpack'08 Nov 15 '14 at 0:43
4

I've been considering this for a while, now. Here's what my thoughts are:

Near

Near is a good option when you're considering geographical proximity of two stated locations. If you're literally saying "A is ___ B", it feels most natural to use "near" rather than "near to", "nearby to", or "nearby".

I feel "nearby" is often interchangeable with "near" in this case, but "nearby" does feel a bit more quaint, and it could mean "near and by" (i.e., nearby 3rd street).

Near to

Should be avoided in the "A is ___ B" pattern for the reason of ambiguity. "to" can literally mean "until you're right there" (i.e., within touching distance). So, if you say: "He walked near to the river." You could mean:

Figure (a):

a bloke walking alongside or "near" the river

(a) He walked near/'mostly alongside' the river. -or-


Figure (b):

a bloke walking near to another bloke to the river

(b) He walked near to [someone/something, especially the speaker] the river.


(a) is intuitive, but a University professor out of the English department might ding you for poor word choice if you form a habit of selecting ambiguous terms.

(b) would be more intuitive if the subject were plural: "They walked near to the river." (b) is apparent with a comma: "He walked near, to the river." But I've met a lot of opposition from other English instructors; that is, even in case (b), publishers in Japan prefer no comma for High School English.

Different authors have different grammatical styles, which are all equally acceptable. But this is the somewhat unfortunate model professionals usually go by:

  1. Most acceptable: a style people agree with and enjoy.
  2. Next-best: a style wherein the reader takes the author's meaning.

Nearby

When "near" comes at the end of a sentence, it takes on a different meaning. It may be associated with something abstract: "the end is near." There may be an omission of an idiomatic object: "I keep her near [to my heart]."

But "nearby" at the end of a sentence means "near" in the "A __ B" sense. "B" is always the current location. "The park is near us." = "The park is nearby."

"Nearby" is also the best choice of adjective: "He lives in a nearby house" because "nearby" is so strongly associated with the current location.

I believe "near by" in the "A __ B" means "near and by". The comma is omitted because it is obvious that they mean the same things. You could also write "near/by", "near-by", "nearby", or even "near--by". "He lives near, by the meadow." = "He lives nearby the meadow". I imagine people use "nearby" because there's no pause required to get the joint meaning across.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful answer, it's made me think again about my post. I do like your "He walked near to the river" which, if I've understood correctly, you say expresses the concept of person moving towards the river. I suppose it could, but it is also the verb, walk*/*go which requires the preposition "to". If a person sets up a tent, would you say: He set the tent up near or near to the river.? Cambridge Dictionaries tells me that near is more common than near to in this case. – Mari-Lou A Nov 15 '14 at 6:11
  • I also think your post should make it clear if any of my examples are ungrammatical as suggested by @EdwinAshworth's comment. I'm trying to get to grips with my nearby example being non-standard English, but it's hard! :( – Mari-Lou A Nov 15 '14 at 6:14
2

You are looking at their usage tree upside-down.

You are thinking about a predicate and then attempting to discover each usage of nearness on that predicate.

To find their differences, you need to invert your box. You don't have to think outside the box, but simply invert the box.

Think about near/near to/nearby as separate words, each having its own right to its own branch of discovery, to discover what types of predicates each could be applied to.

All three are usable to denote proximity in location. These are the differences.

  1. near

    • can be used either transitively with a subject, or non-transitively without a subject: transitive: He ran near me.
      intransitive: He ran near.
    • can be used to describe proximity in likeness
      Her intellect is near his.
      The performance of an Intel i3 is nowhere near an Intel i7.
  2. near to

    • due to presence of preposition, can only be used transitively.
      He ran near to a river.
    • due to preposition to, can be used to indicate vector of nearness.
      He ran near to exhaustion.
      He ate near to a full stomach. (vs He ate near a full stomach)
      She became near to him. (unusable: she became near/nearby him)
      She proceeded near to him = she proceeded towards him, to be near him.
  3. nearby

    • can be used either transitively with a subject, or non-transitively without a subject.
      He ran nearby a river.
      He ran nearby.
      She proceeded nearby him = she proceeded towards an unspecified physical, intellectual or conceptual target, while being nearby him.
      The mark on the performance chart of an Intel i5 is nearby that of Intel i7.
    • cannot be used comprehensively to denote proximity in likeness
      unusable: Her intellect is nearby his.
      unusable: The performance of an Intel i3 is nowhere nearby an Intel i7.

I don't think I should rack my brain writing an exhaustive thesis (while my cat is scratching the door to have me let her in for the past half hour), my point is you need to invert your perspective, to define the differences.

  • English-test.net have (and I agree): The words «nearby» and «near» are very similar in meaning[;] however, there are some differences too. The word «near« can be used as an adjective and as a preposition but «nearby» can be used as an adjective but not as a preposition. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '14 at 9:03
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    Is He ran near. AmEng? It sounds terribly off. Wouldn't "he ran close by" be more grammatical? – Mari-Lou A Aug 20 '14 at 9:04
  • @Mariloua "He ran near" sounds to my SAE ears as if it were missing something. OTOH nearby works perfectly well as a preposition for me "he ran nearby me". Maybe other AmEng regions will differ, though. – guifa Aug 21 '14 at 6:26

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