Beside and Besides

Commonly Confused Words

New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty
"I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" This is the last line of the sonnet "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. The poem is engraved on a bronze plaque mounted on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Getty

Although there's some overlap in meaning between beside and besides, the two words aren't usually interchangeable.

Definitions

Beside is a preposition meaning next to or in comparison with.

As a preposition, besides means except or in addition to. As a conjunctive adverb, besides means also or moreover.

Examples

  • Rose was too angry to sit beside Sam. Besides, she preferred to wait outside.
     
  • "Louisa Weed, a pretty girl of nine was looking out the western windows. Her younger brother Henry was standing beside her."
    (John Cheever, "The Country Husband." The New Yorker, 1955)
     
  • "[The] forgotten little house on the South Side had somehow never been sold or mortgaged. A day came when Albert, the last surviving son, found this piece of property the only thing he owned in the world besides his personal effects."
    (Willa Cather, "Double Birthday." The Forum, 1929)
     
  • "The boy couldn't swim, and [the fisherman] wasn't going to have him climbing in and out of the skiff anymore than necessary. Besides he was too big."
    (Lawrence Sargent Hall, The Ledge." The Hudson Review, 1960)
     
  • "The old home had been long and low, and an enormous willow tree, which had miraculously escaped the fire and still grew, had shaded one corner of the roof. The new home stood beside the macadamized 'new' road and was high and boxlike, painted yellow with a roof of glittering tin. Besides the willow tree, the principal barn at the old home had also escaped the fire and it was still used for storing hay and as a shed in which were kept most of the farm implements."
    (Elizabeth Bishop, "The Farmer's Children." Harper's Bazaar, 1949)
     

    Usage Notes

    • "While the two words were once used interchangeably, beside has been reserved as the preposition and besides as the adverb since the late 18th century. But they are still confounded."
      (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2009)
       
    • The Potential for Ambiguity
      "Some critics argue that beside and besides should be kept distinct when they are used as prepositions. According to that argument, beside is used only to mean 'at the side of,' as in There was no one in the seat beside me. For the meanings 'in addition to' and 'except for' besides should be used: Besides replacing the back stairs, she fixed the broken banister. No one besides Smitty would say a thing like that. But this distinction is often ignored, even by widely respected writers. While it is true that besides can never mean 'at the side of,' beside regularly appears in print in place of besides. Using beside in this way can be ambiguous, however; the sentence There was no one beside him at the table could mean that he had the table to himself or that the seats next to him were not occupied."
      (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2000)
       
    • The Use of Beside for Besides
      "As a number of commentators remark and all conscientious dictionaries show, there is a certain amount of overlap between these two words. The OED shows that historically there was even more than there is now. . . .

      "The only question arises when beside is used in the preposition sense of besides. Gould [in 1856] disliked this use, and most commentators since his time simply avoid it by not mentioning it at all. Although it is not nearly as frequent as besides, it is well attested. It has been in use since the 14th century and appears in the King James version of the Bible in several places. Our modern evidence for this sense is modestly literary. . . . While this use of beside is not wrong, nor rare, nor nonstandard, besides is the word most people use."
      (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, 1994)
       

    Practice

    (a) Thoreau lived _____ a pond. Few people _____ his aunt ever visited him.

    (b) Mr. Moody took several dollar bills out of his pocket and placed the money _____ his plate.

    (c) Nobody _____ me knows the password.

    (d) I wasn't in the mood to play tennis, and besides, I was already late for work.

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Beside and Besides

    (a) Thoreau lived beside a pond. Few people besides his aunt ever visited him.

    (b) Mr. Moody took several dollar bills out of his pocket and placed the money beside his plate.

    (c) Nobody besides me knows the password.

    (d) I wasn't in the mood to play tennis, and besides, I was already late for work.


    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words