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I have read through questions about how "below", "under", "beneath", and "underneath" generally compare (both in stackexchange, and outside), but I don't feel that they gave a satisfactory answer for my specific question.

Compare the following sentences:

The marital status box is located below the street address box.

vs.

The marital status box is located under the street address box.

It feels to me that in this context, "below" means that the marital status box is located somewhere below the street address box, but not necessarily immediately under it, whereas "under" means that it's immediately under.

I am not a native English speaker.

I am interested to know if there is some rule that dictates such a difference between these two words.

If not, then I would like to know if a native speaker would also perceive it like me (despite it not being a "hard" rule), or if my perception is simply wrong.

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    While you may have a valid point, this is looking at shades of meaning, connotations, which vary from person to person anyway. I'd agree, but have to go with 'under' and 'below' being pretty close synonyms. I'd say that in your example, the major pragmatic constraint is 'not four pages further on' whichever preposition is chosen. Jan 17, 2020 at 15:32
  • @EdwinAshworth thanks for your comment. Then what word (i.e. other than "below" and "under") would you use if you did want to "allow" the marital status box to be four pages further? or, allowing for the box to be so further down would require to structure the entire sentence differently?
    – obe
    Jan 17, 2020 at 15:38
  • Here, you'd obviously use something like 'on page 5'. 'Discussed later' say would be used in a lengthy article, or, to reference more helpfully (but with an increased risk of someone rushing ahead), 'see Chapter 7 Section 45b'. // 'Below the street address box' and 'under the street address box' really shouldn't be used unless the other box is [a] pretty close spatially (most reasonably on the same page of a document, but allowably just over the page) and [b] not separated by distractors like other boxes, heavy type, diagrams. Jan 17, 2020 at 16:42
  • @EdwinAshworth I see... thanks! If you post your first comment as an answer then I'll be happy to accept it...
    – obe
    Jan 17, 2020 at 16:55
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    I rarely post an 'answer' when I can't find a supporting article, text etc. And when an opinion is about nuances, finding such a reference could very well be quite difficult. Jan 17, 2020 at 17:55

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While under and below are generally synonymous - and either example given would be acceptable and understood within the confines of a written form, say - the nuance in meaning is more apparent if you spoke those sentences aloud to someone who had no idea what you were talking about.

While "The marital status box is located below the street address box" would give a hint that you were referring to fields on a form, "The marital status box is located under the street address box" is more likely (than the first example) to conjure a mental image of a stack of actual, cardboard file boxes containing printed data.

In other words, under has a more solid, three-dimensional nuance than below - again, just a nuance. US

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  • Thanks! Just to clarify - aside for the solid, three-dimensional nuance - do you have no feeling of difference in implied proximity and using "below" and "under"? (when describing a form and/or when describing a physical three-dimensional structure).
    – obe
    Jan 25, 2020 at 12:47

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