Use the word beside to mean ‘alongside’ or ‘in comparison with.’ Use besides to mean ‘other than,’ ‘except,’ or ‘in addition.’
What is the difference between beside and besides?
Beside and besides are two common words we often take for granted. They are vital for describing spatial awareness and denoting what things are together and which things are separate. But despite their frequency in speech and writing, most English speakers struggle to use these terms correctly.
The primary differences between beside and besides are as such:
- The word beside draws comparisons or describes an object as “next to” something else.
- The word besides means ‘except,’ ‘other than,’ or ‘in addition.’
Why do we use beside and besides differently?
According to Garner’s Modern English Usage, there was a time when writers used “beside” and “besides” interchangeably, and it wasn’t until the 18th century that grammarians began distinguishing these terms for two separate uses: beside as a preposition and besides as an adverb (Garner 108).
Under this logic, writers should use beside as a preposition to mean ‘alongside’ or ‘in comparison with,’ and besides (with an -s- at the end) as an adverb to mean ‘moreover’ or ‘in addition.’
But while the distinction attempts to clear confusion between terms, Lexico points out that it is (technically) standard English to use either word for “apart from” and “in addition to.” For example,
- “I drove a Mercedes but, beside that, there were four other cars.” (preposition)
- “I drove four other cars besides the Mercedes.” (preposition)
- “Besides the Mercedes, I drove four other cars.” (adverb)
As shown above, we can use beside and besides to mean ‘apart from.’ However, the reality is that it’s pretty difficult to use “beside” without implying that something is “next to” something else instead. We can even interpret Lexico’s example sentences in two different ways:
- “Are there other writers beside you who have done this?”
- “You only give respect to people who respect others beside themselves.”
As shown above, the word beside can imply that something is “next to” something or “apart from” another. And since it’s so easy to confuse the two meanings, we recommend sticking to two simple rules:
- Use the preposition beside to describe something as ‘next to’ or ‘in comparison to’ something else.
- Use besides as a preposition for ‘in addition to’ and ‘apart from’ (or as an adverb to mean ‘in addition’ and ‘as well’).
What does beside mean?
The word beside is a preposition that means ‘alongside’ or ‘in comparison with.’ When we use the preposition for ‘alongside,’ it’s synonymous with phrases like ‘next to’ or ‘by the side of.’
- “I found the melted ice cream cake beside a jar of cookies.”
- “Why is there a kid standing beside a small table?”
- “The answer key is beside the teacher’s stack of quizzes.”
- “The farmer’s house was built beside a large barn.”
- “I hung a large mirror beside the bedroom closet.”
When beside means ‘in comparison with,’ it’s synonymous with ‘against,’ ‘next to,’ ‘contrasted with,’ or even ‘on equal footing’ (when two or more things are comparable).
- “Beside his classmates, Michael’s homework scores look pretty bleak.”
- “When playing beside my aunt Anna, my tennis game is wack.”
- “Paying a citation seems a lot less severe beside the line of inmates awaiting trial.”
Additionally, there are also times when beside implies something is ‘on a par with’ or ‘equivalent’ to something else.
- “On the epic scale, tonight’s concert is easily ranked beside Woodstock.”
- “Nobody stands beside the likes of my best friend.”
Lastly, it’s common to see the preposition within the phrase “beside the point,” a common idiom that declares something irrelevant or outside the main topic.
- “Students may have missed the lesson, but that’s beside the point that the exam is objectively unfair.”
- “I could care less about a subscription newsletter, but that’s beside the point.”
What does besides mean?
The word besides is a preposition that means ‘in addition to’ or ‘apart from,’ or a linking adverb that means ‘in addition’ or ‘as well.’ We often find these terms in informal writing and speech, where they are more likely to be confused with the preposition “beside” (with no -s-).
How to use besides as a preposition
When we use the preposition besides to mean ‘apart from,’ it’s similar to phrases like “other than,” “aside from,” “excluding,” “except,” or “with the exception of.”
- “Besides having to rewrite my first essay, I enjoyed taking her writing class.”
- “We don’t know any French besides oui and bonjour.”
- “She doesn’t remember anything from class besides the interactive exercise.”
- “Nobody understood her grief besides her husband and parents.”
When the preposition besides means ‘in addition to,’ it’s synonymous with the phrase “together with.”
- “It was an expensive vacation that, besides being impractical, caused a lot of confusion for her followers and advertising partners.”
- “Besides learning how to use an electronic device, the trick to mastering your inbox is prioritizing contacts and unsubscribing from unnecessary newsletters.”
How to use besides as an adverb
English writers often use the adverb besides to mean ‘in addition’ or ‘as well.’ For the latter case, we use the adverb similarly to expressions like ‘furthermore,’ ‘too boot,’ or ‘too.’
- “The library provides books, magazines, CDs, and other forms of media besides.”
- “You can find additional information about our shop, and much more besides when visiting our homepage today.”
When we use “besides” to mean ‘in addition,’ we’re introducing an additional idea or explanation. In this case, we typically follow the “linking” or “conjunctive adverb” with a comma (just as we would with synonyms like “additionally,” “moreover,” or “furthermore”).
- “I don’t want hamburgers for dinner. Besides, my guest is vegetarian, and they wouldn’t eat it anyway.”
- “The library doesn’t want to buy any more writing handbooks. Besides, they already have a stack of Merriam-Webster dictionaries.”
- “‘Besides,’ he said, ‘we already have enough to worry about, like how hackers stole our charity’s cash prize.’”
Published examples of beside vs. besides
Sometimes, the easiest way to learn English grammar is to learn by example. Let’s take a look at how professional writers have used beside and besides in recent articles.
Examples of beside
- “Isn’t owning tokens really beside the point of appreciating art in the first place?” — Pitchfork
- “Draw the petals around your star, the center trumpet, the stamen and pistil inside, and then the veins of the petals plus stem (and maybe) leaf beside.” — The New York Times
- “Fires starting in camps lined beside businesses have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, according to the Fire Department.” — Los Angeles Times
Examples of besides
- “What do 1970s and ’80s icons Diana Ross, Annie Lennox, and Jerry Hall have in common, besides high-octane glamour and eye-catching fashion choices?” — W Magazine
- “Besides the time and money it takes to build a modern mill, equipment, from microprocessors to heavy machinery, is in short supply.” — The Wall Street Journal
- “The first thing you’ll notice, besides the fact that James’ talents haven’t dulled in the least, is that the 13-year hiatus helped Aphex Twin reconnect with his more melodic side.” — Rolling Stone
Additional reading for beside vs. besides
If you enjoy learning about English grammar, you don’t want to miss out on the following lessons on The Word Counter:
Test how well you understand the difference between beside and besides with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: Outside of meaning “alongside,” both “beside” and “besides” have different meanings.
- Which of the following is not a preposition of place?
d. None of the above
- Which of the following statements are grammatically incorrect?
a. “Besides, I don’t eat pork.”
b. “The fact that bacon is bad for you is besides the point.”
c. “Besides the fact that I’m vegetarian, ham smells like body odor.”
d. “You can leave the ham beside the trash.”
- As a preposition, we can replace “beside” with _____________.
a. Other than
c. Next to
d. Aside from
- The adverb “besides” is not synonymous with ___________.
a. As well
b. None of the above
- Ballentine, S. “Spring Beauty Is All About Blush—For Cheeks and Eyes.” W Magazine, wmagazine.com, 15 Apr 2021.
- “Beside.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Beside.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Besides.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- Dezember, R. “Despite Lumber Boom, Few New Sawmills Coming.” The Wall Street Journal, wsj.com, 17 May 2021.
- Garner, B. “Beside.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 108.
- Hall, B., Wallace, E. “College ESL Writers: Applied Grammar and Composing Strategies for Success.” English Open Textbooks, University System of Georgia, 2018.
- Hogan, M. “Why Do NFTs Matter for Music?” Pitchfork, pitchfork.com, 5 Mar 2021.
- Kreps, D. “Aphex Twin Lets Voice Be Heard on New ‘Syro’ Track.” Rolling Stone, rollingstone.com, 4 Sept 2014.
- Smith, D. “24 fires a day: Surge in flames at L.A. homeless encampments a growing crisis.” Los Angeles Times, latimes.com, 12 May 2021.
- Walker Leslie, C. “To Draw Nature, Pick Up a Pencil and Really Look.” The New York Times, nytimes.com, 9 Mar 2021.