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'beside' / 'besides' and 'toward' / 'towards'
beside the sea

Sanjay Khumar Bhola from India asks:

I often confuse the difference between beside and besides. Please clear up my confusion.

Roger replies:more questions

It is quite important not to confuse them, for they are different in meaning and usage.

beside

Beside is a preposition, similar in meaning to 'next to', 'at the side of' or 'by':

  • 'Where is the apple orchard?' 'Itís right beside the main road. You canít miss it!'

  • 'We were lying beside the pool when the phone rang. It was his boss wanting to know why he wasnít at work.'
It is often used with verbs such as 'standing', 'sitting', 'lying'. It is also used in the expression beside the point when referring to something that is not relevant to the subject under discussion:
  • 'Modern art isnít really art at all!' 'Thatís beside the point when so many young people respond to it with such interest. They regard it as art.'

besides

Besides is a preposition, meaning 'in addition to', 'as well as' or 'apart from':

  • 'What exam subjects are you taking besides English and maths?'

  • 'Were there any boys at the party besides Matt and Dillon?'
It can also introduce a participial phrase:
  • 'Besides bruising his face, he cut his lip and bloodied his nose.'
Besides also functions as an adverb, meaning 'as well', 'furthermore' or 'anyway'. It is often used to introduce an afterthought. Consider these examples:
  • 'Itís too late to start a round of golf now. We shall never finish before dark. Besides, itís starting to rain.'

  • 'He doesnít have very much money and he doesnít have very many prospects. Besides, heís far too young to think of getting married.'

toward - towards

What about towards and toward? One of my own students was worried that there might be similar pitfalls in store for her when using these prepositions. Well, I can re-assure all of you that these prepositions can be used quite interchangeably and that there is no difference in meaning. The only slight difference in usage is that toward is perhaps more characteristic of American English and towards more usual in British English. Toward or towards means 'in the direction of':

  • 'Can you see that light over there?' 'I think itís coming towards us.'

  • 'There are always more mosquitoes in the air toward evening. Have you noticed?'

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