I am trying to describe a situation where the protagonist has intentionally left a door almost closed to make it appear closed, but has left enough of a gap for them to look through and spy. Therefore when describing the door I want it to read as though it is closed (because that is how it appears to the other characters), but at the same time subtly hint to the reader that it may not be completely closed. Otherwise if I describe it as closed, when the protagonist bursts through the door, the reader will feel cheated and wonder how the protagonist could see through the door to know when to attack. I have come up with the following examples:

  • The door was apparently closed.
  • The door looked closed.

But I'm not sure if there is a better way to describe this. It is a delicate balance between suggesting but not spoiling the element of surprise for the reader.

  • I assume you don't want the protagonist to look through the keyhole?
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 3:27
  • Yes not through the keyhole.
    – FrontEnd
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 3:36
  • 5
    The door was left open a crack.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 3:42
  • 3
    The door is ajar.
    – Drew
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 4:36
  • @Jim - Please write an answer so I can upvote it. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 5:44

2 Answers 2


You could say that the door was to (Oxford):


So as to be closed or nearly closed.

‘he pulled the door to behind him’

and let the 'subtle hint' come from the ambiguity in that.

  • 1
    This is really good. So from an antagonist's POV: "Behind him he saw the door had been pulled to." Is that correct?
    – FrontEnd
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 3:50
  • @FrontEnd That, or "he could see that the door was to". Whichever it is has to fit within the style of the narrator, of course.
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 3:54
  • 8
    I'm of two minds about this answer. The verb phrase pushed the door to was my first thought, but I don't think I've ever heard that a door was to. I wouldn't know what to make of that, without either pushed or pulled in there (between was and to).
    – 1006a
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 4:41
  • 4
    "Pulled the door to" doesn't necessarily mean it was not fully closed (at least in British English). Some types of door can close fully without having to operate the catch or the door knob, other types can not. As @1006a said, "the door was to" isn't idiomatic British English either.
    – alephzero
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 6:35

See ajar at Oxford dictionary defined as

slightly open

  • 2
    I always got the impression that ajar emphasises the state of being open, even if just slightly. So at the same time it cannot stress the state of being almost closed. Just my feeling, though, YMMV.
    – Erathiel
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 11:34
  • 2
    If something is only slightly open, then it stands to reason that it is almost closed!
    – TabbyCool
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 12:08
  • 1
    @TabbyCool I'm tempted to add almost closed to the oxford definition. If only I were the editor. :)
    – vickyace
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 12:25

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