In prepositions of movement, ‘Around’ can have two different meanings. First, ‘around’ can mean ‘in a circle’
- The train is going around the track.
- The earth revolves around its axis.
‘Around’ can also mean ‘in different directions’. For example, if you say ‘we walked around the city centre’, you mean that you walked to different parts of the centre. Here’s another example.
- He looked around to check that everything seemed OK.
He looked around, so he looked in different directions. Left, right, up, and so on.
‘Along’ means ‘in a straight line’ plus ‘parallel to’.
- She’s walking along the stream.
- The woman walked along the street.
- He’s cycling along the road.
Instead of ‘along’ you can often use ‘up’ or ‘down’ instead in conversational English. For example, instead of ‘He’s cycling along the road’, you could say ‘He’s cycling up the road,’ or ‘He’s cycling down the road.’ Confusingly, ‘up’ and ‘down’ often mean exactly the same thing! Sometimes, there’s a small difference. ‘Up’ can mean ‘towards you’, and ‘down’ can mean ‘away from you’. So, these two sentences…
- She’s walking up the street.
- She’s walking down the street.
…could mean the same thing. They could also be different. The first sentence – with ‘up’ – could mean that she’s walking towards you, and the second sentence – with ‘down’ – could mean that she’s walking away from you.
- She passed under the fallen tree.
- The couple walked under the bridge.
‘Under’ is similar to ‘below’, but not exactly the same. Do you know the difference? ‘Below’ means that you stay underneath something. ‘Under’ – as a preposition of movement – means that you pass from one side of something to another. So, if you’re talking about movement, ‘under’ is more common. You could say ‘the couple walked below the bridge.’ It’s grammatically correct, but it’s also strange. Do you know why? ‘The couple walked below the bridge’ means they stayed in the area underneath the bridge, so the bridge was over their heads the whole time they were walking. ‘Over’ is the direct opposite of ‘under’.
- The plane flew right over our heads.
- She vaulted over the bar.
The direct opposite of ‘below’ is ‘above’. The difference between ‘over’ and ‘above’ is the same as the difference between ‘under’ and ‘below’.
‘Across’ means from one side of something to the other.
- When the light turned green, they walked across the street.
- We walked across a narrow wooden bridge.
When you use ‘across’, there normally isn’t anything above you. Use it for open spaces. For closed spaces, do you know which preposition to use?
- He walked through the door.
- We drove through the tunnel.
- The boat travelled through the swamp.
Sometimes, both ‘through’ and ‘across’ are possible; you can say ‘The boat travelled through the swamp’ or ‘…across the swamp.’ The meaning is similar, but there could be a small difference. Do you know? ‘Through’ means that you enter and then exit something. If you drive through a tunnel, you first drive into the tunnel, and then you drive out of it. If the boat travels through the swamp, it moves into the swamp, then later moves out of it. ‘Across’ means that you start on one side, and finish on the opposite side. If you say ‘the boat travelled across the swamp’, you mean that it entered the swamp on one side, and exited on the opposite side. You can use both ‘across’ and ‘through’ with large, open spaces, especially natural spaces: fields, parks, gardens, cities, and so on. When you can use both, ‘across’ has a more specific meaning than ‘through’. Both mean that you entered a space and then exited it, but ‘across’ also tells you where you exited.
‘Towards’ means that you approach something; you get closer to something.
- He walked towards the plane.
- She’s walking towards the sea.
- They’re walking towards the lighthouse.
The opposite of ‘towards’ is ‘away from’. Here’s a question: what’s the difference between these two?
- They walked towards the lighthouse.
- They walked up to the lighthouse.
Both mean that they approached the lighthouse, but they’re slightly different. ‘Towards’ tells you a direction. ‘Up to’ tells you a final result. If they walked towards the lighthouse, they got closer to it. You don’t know where they started or finished, but you know that they got closer to the lighthouse. If they walked up to the lighthouse, then they reached the lighthouse; they ended up next to the lighthouse. In this case, you don’t know where they started, but you know where they finished.
7. Into/Out Of
‘Into’ has two common meanings as a preposition of movement. First, it can mean to enter.
- He dived into the water.
- She came into the office.
‘Into’ can also mean to collide with something.
- The cars crashed into each other.
The opposite of ‘into’ – meaning ‘enter’– is ‘out of’.
- She took the instruments out of the cupboard.
- He got out of his car to fill it up with petrol.
- I was walking past the café when I saw my friend sitting inside.
- The two women walked past the parking garage.
If you walk past something – for example a house – you start with the house in front of you, you walk *past* the house, and then the house is behind you.
‘Up’ and ‘down’ have two common meanings as prepositions of movement. First, you have the basic meaning: to a higher or lower position.
- She’s walking up the hill.
- When we let go of the lanterns, they flew up into the sky.
- He walked down the stairs while talking on the phone.
- The roller coaster accelerated down a steep drop.
You saw earlier that ‘up’ or ‘down’ can also have the same meaning as ‘along’. That’s all for this lesson. Thanks for watching!
Keep practicing with another Oxford Online English lesson on prepositions: Prepositions of Place – ‘To’, ‘In’, and ‘At’.