Is there an idiomatic saying to say that a distance is about x kilometer, including the connotation of "a little bit more than" or "a little bit less than" as "just over" and "just under" respectively denotes.

The village is located __ 30 km to the south of London.

Clarification: I'm not looking for one word that is saying both (like around, approximately, etc.), but for two different (opposite) words with the connotation of either "just over" or "just under".

  • Have you considered 'approximately'? Jul 4, 2012 at 7:25
  • @BarrieEngland I amend my question pointing out more precisely what I'm looking for, since that wasn't what I meant.
    – Em1
    Jul 4, 2012 at 7:32
  • 2
    just over and just under are idiomatic. Jul 4, 2012 at 8:18
  • Fine, @MattЭллен, then "Alternative idiomatic" ;) I hardly believe that "just over" and "just under" are the only expressions. Right now when writing this comment "barely" comes to my mind. What about that?
    – Em1
    Jul 4, 2012 at 8:25
  • 1
    let us continue this discussion in chat Jul 4, 2012 at 9:02

3 Answers 3


This is a tough question indeed. Most single-word terms (such as around, about, approximately, or roughly) seem to mean "more or less"; most terms that express a small delta in one particular direction or the other (like a shade under/over, or a tad more than/less than) are not single words.

To express a little less than, you might try:

  • The village is almost 30 km south of London.
  • The village is nearly 30 km south of London.
  • The village is scarcely 30 km south of London.
  • The village is hardly 30 km south of London.
  • The village is close to 30 km south of London.
  • The village is not quite 30 km south of London.
  • The village is just shy of 30 km south of London.

Of these, I like almost the best. Of course, the last three listed aren't using single words, but it's worth noting that the NOAD has a separate entry for the phrasal close to, defining it as "(of an amount) almost; very nearly."

Some might consider nearly to be rather ambiguous, in that it could mean a little bit less than (which is what we want), or it could mean approximately (which is what we are trying to avoid). However, the following usage note (from Collins) would lead me to believe that, in this context, nearly means not quite (or just under) 30 km:

If something is nearly a quantity, it is very close to that quantity but slightly less than it. He stared at me in silence for nearly twenty seconds.

A single word to express a little more than seems even more elusive; you might try:

  • The village is barely 30 km south of London.
  • The village is beyond 30 km south of London.
  • The village is upwards of 30 km south of London.

Unlike close to, however, upwards of doesn't convey that sense of close proximity. If a village was close to 30 km away, that might mean a distance of 28 or 29 kilometers; if that village was upwards of 30 km away, that could mean a distance of 36 or 37 kilometers – at least in my mind. Same with beyond.

I think the best-fitting word might be barely, although, quite honestly, it took some deliberation for me to figure out whether barely 2 miles away would mean a little more than 2 miles away, or a little less than 2 miles away. After reading Matt's related question, and consulting the dictionary, I now believe it's a great word to convey what we want (i.e., just a little more than), but it seems like some of that subtle nuance might get lost in the communication. Note that Collins lists more than one meaning for barely, the first meaning would imply just a little more than, while the second (though informal) would imply just a little less than! I barely know what else to say!

All said, I still think the best way to convey these thoughts in English is by using phrases such as a little under or just barely over:

  • The village is a little under 30 km south of London.
  • The village is a tad farther than 30 km south of London.
  • Despite the dictionary reference, I'm still under the impression that "barely" means something less, so I wouldn't go for the example in the second set of options, but it might just be my own interpretation. Very thorough answer. +1
    – Paola
    Jul 4, 2012 at 14:32
  • @Paola: You are mistaken. In this construction, barely means only just, so it's always at least whatever follows. But we only use this form when we mean to convey that the distance is little more than 30km and that 30km is no great distance in the current context. Jul 4, 2012 at 17:20
  • Perhaps @Paola is conceding to the dictionary, but admitting that she may have misinterpreted the word on first hearing. In that sense, I wouldn't say that she's mistaken per se, but her interpretation would be.
    – J.R.
    Jul 4, 2012 at 18:00

For distances, "around" is the best choice as you have dismissed approximately.

EDIT: If you need separate phrases then just over and just under are the ones to use. I am not sure why this is a problem to use these.

Alternatively, you could use "30 odd miles" for just over. You might be able to get away with "It's not 30 miles from London" for just under, although this sounds rather quaint.

The problem is, you assume a particular route and starting place. 30 miles from South London by Motorway is a lot more from North London by backroads. Unless you are being very specific about where you start form and finish, not to mention the route, being this close seems to be meaningless.

  • I think the problem is that Em1 wants 2 words or phrases, one for just over and one for just under, hence why approximately (or around) are not what Em1 wants. Jul 4, 2012 at 8:17
  • Hahaha, don't be too picky. Then consider of "Go down that street for odd 1 mile". Btw. +1 for "odd" :)
    – Em1
    Jul 4, 2012 at 9:30

Previously-suggested nearly works well for the just-under case, and fully works for the just-over case, with meaning "not less than". It connotes "about, but not less than".

The village is nearly 30 km south of London.
The village is fully 30 km south of London.

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