The Meaning of Abreast: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever been confused by the definition of abreast? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word abreast, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word abreast mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Dictionary, the word abreast (pronounced əˈbrest) is an adjective and adverb that has two possible meanings. The first definition refers to keeping someone informed, aware, or equal to. This is often used in the term to keep abreast, abreast of, or abreast with. If someone is a journalist tracking a news story, for example, they will want to stay abreast of the recent developments of the story as it unfolds. A person studying epidemiology will want to keep abreast of the present state of science or any scientific developments. Knowing the latest developments will make them a better scientist.

The term abreast can also be used to mean side-by-side. This has been used in a nautical sense to mean to keep along side the beam of a ship or vessel’s beam, according to See the Sea, but it can also be used in a more general sense to refer to things that are next to each other. You can see that the meaning of keeping abreast of a situation takes on a figurative sense of side-by-side. 

There are many different languages that use words that mean abreast to mean either informed or side by side. While we can use the word abreast for either of these meanings in English, you may notice that not many of these languages do that in the same way. This list of translations is provided by Word Sense.

Abreast Definition #1 – informed

  • German: auf dem Laufenden‎
  • Italian: aggiornato‎ (masc.), aggiornata‎ (fem.), al passo‎, al corrente‎
  • Greek: δίπλα-δίπλα‎
  • French: au courant‎
  • Portuguese: bem informado‎
  • Russian: в ку́рсе‎
  • Finnish: tietoinen‎, ajan tasalla‎
  • Spanish: al corriente‎
  • Estonian: kursis‎
  • Dutch: op de hoogte‎, bekend‎, goed ingelicht‎, welingelicht‎, met zijn tijd mee‎

Abreast Definition #2 – side by side

  • Dutch: zij aan zij‎, naast elkaar‎
  • Finnish: rinnakkain‎, vierekkäin‎, vierivieressä‎
  • Polish: obok siebie‎
  • French: côte à côte‎
  • Bulgarian: редом‎, един до друг‎, на един ред‎, рамо до рамо‎
  • Scots: abreest‎
  • Chinese – Mandarin: 並排‎, 并排‎ (bìngpái)
  • Czech: bok po boku‎, vedle sebe
  • German: beieinander‎
  • Spanish: de lado a lado‎
  • Portuguese: lado a lado‎
  • Russian: в ряд‎ , на одно́й ли́нии‎ , бок о́ бок‎, ря́дом‎
  • Italian: affiancato‎, di pari passo‎
  • Maori: upane‎

How can the word abreast be used in a sentence?

The word abreast has two different meanings, and therefore can be used in two different ways. First, it can mean informed. In this sentence, Jill addresses her team:

Jill: Please keep me abreast of any new developments in the case. I don’t care if it’s midnight, my phone will be on.

In this next example, abreast will mean side-by-side. Jill addresses her campers.

Jill: We will be using the buddy system on this hike. Make sure you keep abreast of your buddy.

What is the origin of the word abreast?

According to Etymonline, the word abreast has been used since the mid-15th century. This is a contraction of the term on breast, meaning side-by-side. This was formed from the prefix a- and the word breast, which figuratively refers to keeping breasts in line like a military lineup. The term to keep abreast to mean to keep informed or up to date has been used since the 1650s. 

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word abreast?

Since the word abreast has two different potential meanings, this means that it will have two sets of synonyms. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same meaning as other words and phrases. These are very useful to know if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself or if you simply want to expand your knowledge of the English language. These lists of synonyms for the word abreast are provided by Thesaurus

Abreast Definition #1 – informed

  • well-read
  • briefed
  • into
  • informed
  • tuned in
  • expert
  • versed
  • in the know
  • know what’s what
  • conversant
  • cognizant
  • au fait
  • on top of
  • learned
  • up
  • up-to-date
  • wise to
  • versant
  • acquainted
  • enlightened
  • erudite
  • primed
  • know the score
  • familiar
  • knowledgeable
  • posted
  • savvy
  • reliable
  • up on
  • au courant
  • apprized

Abreast Definition #2 – side by side

  • bordering on
  • close at hand
  • side by side
  • overlooking
  • neck and neck
  • alongside
  • at the side of
  • close to
  • close upon
  • adjacent to
  • near
  • neighboring
  • contiguous to
  • at the edge of
  • fornent
  • with
  • in juxtaposition
  • nearby
  • next door to
  • next to
  • at one’s elbow
  • by
  • aside
  • beside
  • round
  • opposite
  • adjoining
  • nigh
  • connected with
  • a step from
  • verging on
  • cheek by jowl

There are also many different words that are antonyms for both definitions of the word abreast. Antonyms are also useful to know if you wish to expand your knowledge of English grammar and your vocabulary. These lists of antonyms for the word abreast are also provided by Thesaurus.

Abreast Definition #1 – informed

  • unsuspecting
  • unmindful
  • unfamiliar
  • daydreaming
  • caught napping
  • inconversant
  • inattentive
  • ignorant
  • doped
  • uninformed
  • unconcerned
  • deaf
  • forgetful
  • unaware
  • unacquainted
  • nescient
  • unconscious
  • heedless
  • in a daze
  • not cognizant
  • unknowing
  • deaf to
  • out of it
  • out to lunch
  • out cold
  • negligent
  • unenlightened
  • careless
  • insensible
  • uninstructed
  • unwitting
  • oblivious
  • not all there
  • spacey
  • incognizant
  • mooning
  • blind

Abreast Definition #2 – side by side

  • wandering
  • disoriented
  • without
  • off-track
  • lost
  • mislaid
  • irrecoverable
  • kiss goodbye
  • at sea
  • absent
  • out the window
  • missed
  • unredeemed
  • disappeared
  • strayed
  • gone astray
  • irretrievable
  • forfeit
  • fallen between cracks
  • nowhere to be found
  • missing
  • irrevocable
  • obscured
  • lacking
  • misplaced
  • hidden
  • forfeited
  • down the drain
  • minus
  • adrift
  • off-course
  • invisible
  • wayward
  • gone
  • vanished
  • cast away
  • astray

Overall, the word abreast is an adjective or adverb that can either be used to mean informed or side by side. This term is often used in the phrases to keep abreast or to stay abreast, and can be used in many different circumstances.