Confusing words: near, close

When used in the sense of ‘not far’ or ‘a short distance away’, the adjectives near and close have the same meaning and are interchangeable.

We can say:

  • His house is very close. or
    His house is very near. ✓ 
  • Where’s the nearest shop? or
    Where’s the closest shop? 
  • Which town is nearer? ✓  or
    Which town is closer?

Be careful of exceptions (as usual)!

There are some cases when near and close are NOT interchangeable. (You were expecting that, weren’t you?)

Here are some of the most common exceptions that more advanced learners of English would be expected to know:

Close near

We use close to talk about people’s relationships with one another:

  • They’re a close family
  • My dad was closer to his brother than to his sister.
  • Mike and I are very close friends.

Close is also used in the following collocations:

  • a close encounter
    The mountaineer Joe Simpson has had several close encounters with death.
  • close race
    After a close race, Obama won the election.
  • close finish
    It was a close finish – only a tenth of a second separated the two runners.

Near close

  • near miss
    The asteroid passed 27,700 km from the surface of Earth – a near miss.
  • in the near future
    The volcano could erupt in the near future, according to scientists.
  • in the near distance
    We could see someone in the near distance.

close vs. near - difference
OK? I hope my explanation leaves you closer to understanding the usage of these adjectives. Or has reading this left you close to tears with frustration? 😉

Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. See all posts by Stuart

9 Comments

  1. Ed - April 4, 2013, 3:17 pm Reply

    Very good article.. but I still feel I need some exercises to check my understanding.

  2. sam - April 9, 2013, 2:03 pm Reply

    YES , It does specially the last 2 lines. but I did’t understand what was ur meaning (when u said) has reading. gratitude for ur instruction , It has helped alot and will do again.

    • Stuart Cook - April 10, 2013, 6:44 am Reply

      In the question at the end of the article, has reading this means ‘has reading this article left you close to tears?’ In other words, ‘Were you close to tears after reading this article? ‘

      • sam - April 10, 2013, 1:31 pm Reply

        HI Stuart
        I got wt did u want to say(it’s meaning)
        but I asked about the tense ( has reading) I haven’t heard such sentence and don’t know how to use this tense
        may ur explanations bring some help
        thanks alot

        • Stuart Cook - April 10, 2013, 6:42 pm Reply

          Sam,

          The tense is the present perfect simple. Reading this has left you

          Reading is a noun here (called a gerund), not a verb; I think that’s probably what confused you about the sentence.

  3. Gil Druart - March 23, 2014, 11:37 pm Reply

    Well, except that I hate the grammar in the first examples, although one does hear it often enough.

    I would object to this use of ‘close’ or ‘near’ without a relation, preferring ‘His house is close to here’ or (better) ‘His house is nearby’.

    Near sounds particularly objectionable used in this way. Were someone to say to me, ‘His house is very near’ I am fairly sure I would respond automatically ‘Near to what? Collapse?’

  4. david - February 9, 2016, 7:39 pm Reply

    good piece, though, I would say that I am sitting near you and I am sitting close to you have a slightly diff. meaning and would not be interchangeable, as is the case with he examples in the first section of this article!

  5. sarah - April 27, 2016, 9:34 am Reply

    which of the following statements is right?
    – do not come close* to me, or
    – do not come near me

    *Close is not used here in the context of an emotional/physical relationship, rather as when some stranger tries to get acquainted with you.

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