1

I'm walking in a direction and there is someone who is ahead of me and walking in the same direction as me. I'm trying to catch up with him. If I say:

If I speed up, I might be able to beat the distance between me and him.

Does beat the distance make sense? Should I say something else to explain this kind of situation? If it's okay, is there any other phrase I can use in this kind of situation?

1

It does make sense—just not the sense you’re trying to express.

While to beat can mean many things, the context here sounds very much like some kind of competitive activity, which means the definition of to beat that most readers will have is

4 a : OVERCOME, DEFEAT

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

which does roughly line up with what you mean to express. However, in this context, when you “overcome” his distance, we understand that to mean that your distance is greater than his. For example, if the competition were the long jump, you would “beat the distance” he had set when you jump an even greater distance.

It would not mean you had overcome the distance by which he was ahead of you, e.g. in a race. In a race, “to beat the distance” has no clear meaning and would leave most of the audience confused. A more typical phrase for accomplishing that could be “to close the gap,” or “to make up time.”

2

Does “beat the distance” make sense?

No, but to trim would work. OED

c. fig. To reduce the size, amount, or number of

As in:

If I speed up, I might be able to trim the distance between me and him.

1

Speaking as a native speaker I can say that the usual idiom is "to narrow the distance".

https://ludwig.guru/s/narrow+the+distance+between

Here's a Google ngram showing that "narrow the distance" is perhaps 100 times as frequent a string. However by following up links at the bottom of the page I see that for 'beat the distance' the words are not all in the same sentence. On the other hand with 'narrow the distance' in the majority of cases it is a single phrase.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=narrow+the+distance%2Cbeat+the+distance&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cnarrow%20the%20distance%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cbeat%20the%20distance%3B%2Cc0#t1%3B%2Cnarrow%20the%20distance%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cbeat%20the%20distance%3B%2Cc0

  • 1
    Yes. Or if you were both still walking, with the distance narrowing, you could say you "were gaining on him" - meaning "gaining ground" on him. – WS2 Mar 4 at 21:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.