Confusing words: close, shut

I’ve had a few emails from people asking about the difference between close and shut.

In fact, these two words often have the same meaning, and there are only a few cases when they are not interchangeable.

Doors and windows, eyes and mouth

We can close or shut doors and windows:

  • Close/shut the door – it’s freezing in here.
  • Always close/shut all the windows before you leave the house.

You can also close or shut your mouth and eyes:

  • I closed/shut my eyes and made a wish.
  • Close/shut your eyes – we’ve got a surprise for you.

! When someone is angry and wants another person to be quiet, it’s more likely that he’ll say ‘Shut your mouth!’

Shops, banks, etc.

When talking about the time when shops and banks are not open we can say close or shut:

  • What time does the bank close/shut?
  • The shopping centre closes/shuts at 9 p.m.
  • All shops used to be closed/shut on Sundays.

! Shut is less formal and can be a little less polite than close.

! Signs on shop doors always say closed (not shut), to state that they are not open.

Signs on shop doors say 'closed', not 'shut'.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roads, airports

We use closed for roads, streets, airports, motorway lanes, etc.:

  • Newbury Road is closed after an accident there this morning.
  • The airport was closed because of bad fog.
  • Two lanes of the M6 motorway are closed, which will mean delays for drivers.

Before a noun

When using an adjective before a noun we can say only closed:

  • a closed door, a closed window
  • a shut door, a shut window
  • closed eyes
  • shut eyes

‘Shutting’ can suggest noise

Shut often suggests that the action was noisy:

  • He slammed the car door shut.
  • There was a sudden gust of wind and all the windows banged shut.

Fixed phrases with ‘close’ or ‘shut’

In many phrases and collocations (word combinations) close and shut are NOT interchangeable. Here are some examples:

closing moments

  • Chelsea scored a goal in the closing moments of the game.

a closed case, close a case

  • The police have closed the case because of a lack of evidence.
  • The police have closed their investigations.

close a show/musical

  • Poor ticket sales meant that the musical closed after just two weeks.

shut yourself (away)

  • A recluse is someone who shuts himself away from the world and never goes out.
  • My brother was in a bad mood yesterday and he shut himself in his room all day.

close a bank account

  • I closed my bank account because I was unhappy about the high charges for transactions.

Now try this quick quiz to see how well you can use close and shut:

questions go herescoregoes here


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See more: Confusing Words

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

11 Comments

  1. paul - August 26, 2012, 11:58 am Reply

    I think the main difference is that Shut is used more in the north and Close in the south, probably due to the word origins as the north was settled more by vikings/danes and the south by Normans/French

  2. Dawid - April 15, 2013, 10:48 pm Reply

    Thank you for this text. It hes been very useful for me.
    Good job!
    Regards from Poland 🙂

  3. denis - September 14, 2013, 8:11 am Reply

    Hi Stuart.
    Thank you for the lesson, it’s very clear and very useful for me.
    Thank you again.
    Denis

    • Stuart Cook - September 18, 2013, 8:23 am Reply

      Hi, Denis
      I’m glad you find it useful.

      • pitpan - April 3, 2015, 10:29 pm Reply

        shut book or close book?

  4. Chris - March 29, 2014, 5:38 am Reply

    I think i have got a lot of knowledge from this article. Good job

  5. Ogo Muoneke - November 14, 2014, 8:00 am Reply

    Nice piece. Really helpful. Tnx

  6. kshatratej wadane - January 3, 2015, 5:21 am Reply

    THANK YOU ! for the text .
    I learnt very well from the text .

  7. busola - December 7, 2015, 6:06 am Reply

    Thanks Stuart,
    This was very helpful.

  8. Emilio Delgado - January 10, 2017, 4:10 am Reply

    Great post! One example I think would have been good is “shut up” and “close up”, that cannot mean the same, right?
    Thanks, it was very illustrative.

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