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Language Arts

Beside vs Besides

Read this article to learn the differences between "beside" and. "besides." The article provides definitions and example sentences using "beside" and "besides." Also, learn techniques to help you remember the differences between these easily confused words and when it is appropriate to use "beside" vs. "besides."

We’re going to have to deal with some intricacies in order to sort out beside and besides, but with a little patience, we can clarify what’s what.

First, beside is a preposition and an adverb. Some source list all adverbial uses as obsolete; others do not, suggesting that they are still current. Based on a survey, I’m going to consider the adverb usage as obsolete and set it aside.

Second, one source lists besides as a preposition, adverb, and conjunction; a second lists it as a preposition, adverb, and conjunction, and a third lists it exclusively as an adverb and preposition. I’m going to take majority rule, and treat the adverbial and prepositional meanings only.

Third, another source states that the two words should be differentiated on the basis of beside being the preposition and besides being the adverb. This throws out so many accepted uses that it is not worth considering. Okay, that’s that: now we can get started.

Adverbial Besides

As an adverb besides means “also or in addition to,” “furthermore,” or “else.” Here are example sentences:

In addition to: There were not only creamed oysters, Oysters Rockefeller, and Oysters Casino - which alone would have satisfied me beyond expectation - but five other oyster dishes besides.

Furthermore: Besides, Billy can be a pain in the neck to travel with, and that’s a second good reason not to include him in the invitation.

Else: Because I hate shopping on the weekend, I was willing to go to Costco, but nowhere besides.

Notice that in each case, besides stands alone without an object. This is one way to differentiate adverbial use, which should always be besides rather than beside, from prepositional use.

Sorting Out the Prepositions Beside and Besides

In this case, let’s begin with examples. Can you tell which of the following four sentences have identical meanings and which differ? And can you match each of the sentences with its meaning?

  1. There was no one in the car beside me.
  2. There was no one beside me in the car.
  3. There was no one in the car besides me.
  4. There was no one besides me in the car.

A. There was no one other than me in the car.

B. There was no one sitting next to me in the car.

C. The car next to me was empty.

Here are the answers: First, sentences 3 and 4 have identical meanings. As a preposition, besides means “in addition to” or “other than” and so the object controls the meaning, regardless of placement. Both sentence 3 and sentence 4 match with meaning A.

Beside can mean “next to,” “in comparison with,” “in addition to,” and “except for”- but let’s set aside the final two meanings and come back to them. In sentence 1, beside me is a prepositional phrase modifying car. It tells which car is being referred to: the car that is “next to me.” Thus, it matches with meaning C. In sentence 2, “beside me in the car” modifies one, telling what the negation is about This matches with meaning B - the opposite would be “there was someone beside me in the car,” i.e., someone was sitting next to me.

Some experts point out that if the third and fourth meanings of beside are allowed, rather than reserving them to besides, then an audience could take quite different meanings from a sentence, which could create serious confusion. For example, if we were to entertain these meanings of beside, we would not know whether to match sentence 2 with meaning B (meaning 1) or A (meanings 3 or 4). If we make a distinction between beside and besides, and restrict beside to the meanings of “next to” and “in comparison with,” while besides has the meanings “in addition to” and “except for” as well as its adverbial meanings, then we can avoid confusing our listeners and readers.

Distinguishing Beside and Besides

If you’re willing to follow the advice to make a distinction between the prepositional meanings of beside and besides, you can use this mnemonic:

Beside has six letters and besides has an s besides.

This ties the extra letter in besides (as compared to beside) to the concept of addition, which is one of the prepositional meanings that we’re suggesting reserving for besides.