Lesson #190: Understanding the Difference between ‘Beside’ vs ‘Besides’

📙 “And one day, I remember, I met Miss Matty in the lane that leads to Combehurst; she was walking on the footpath, which, you know, is raised a good way above the road, and a gentleman rode beside her, and was talking to her, and she was looking down at some primroses she had gathered, and pulling them all to pieces, and I do believe she was crying.”

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford (published serially, 1851-1853) 🌺

Have you ever struggled with understanding the difference between ‘beside’ and ‘besides’? 🤔

It can seem a bit tricky, but trust me there are clear tips here in this Lesson to help you use each one in its proper place!

We are going to tackle the following:

  • what are the differences between ‘beside’ and ‘besides’, with examples
  • how to punctuate sentences with ‘besides’
  • what are some fixed phrases with ‘beside’
  • a mini-quiz for you to test your comprehension

We are turning to one of my favourite Gaskell novels, her country stories in Cranford, the little book about a group of elderly ladies living in a small English village, who do their best to help each other out in good times and in bad. 🌷🌼🌻

📝 WHAT ‘BESIDE’ AND ‘BESIDES’ ARE NOT:

Before we look at the differences between these two words, we must emphasise – they are not the same! They are not synonyms of each other, nor is ‘besides’ a plural form of ‘beside’. ⚠️

📝 WHAT THEY ARE:

– ‘Beside’ is a preposition that means ‘next to’, ‘close to’, ‘at the side of [something/someone]’

In some contexts it can also mean ‘apart from’, ‘in addition to’.

– ‘Besides‘ is also a preposition and an adverb. It can mean both

(preposition) ‘in addition to’, ‘except’, ‘apart from’, and 

(adverb) ‘in addition’, ‘as well’, ‘furthermore’, ‘moreover’.

📝 SOME EXAMPLES:

📙 ‘She had something above twenty pounds a year, besides the interest of the money for which the furniture would sell; but she could not live upon that: and so we talked over her qualifications for earning money.’

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

Here it means ‘as well as’, ‘extra’, ‘in addition to’ the interest of the money …

..

📙 “Don’t be shocked, prim little Mary, at all my wonderful stories.   I consider Mrs Jamieson fair game, and besides I am bent on propitiating her, and the first step towards it is keeping her well awake.”

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

This sentence’s ‘besides’ could be described with the following synonyms: ‘furthermore’, ‘additionally’, ‘also’. 

..

📙 ‘Miss Pole came down upon her with indigestion, spectral illusions, optical delusions, and a great deal out of Dr Ferrier and Dr Hibbert besides.’

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

This is a good sample sentence where ‘besides’ features at the end. Again, it simply means ‘in addition’ or ‘as well’.

..

📙 “Besides, he has never been in India, and knows nothing of the proper sit of a turban.”

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

And here is an example of a sentence with ‘besides’ at the beginning. When ‘besides’ is found at the start of a sentence, it gives the impression of an afterthought: ‘as well as that’, ‘in addition’, ‘furthermore’, ‘moreover’, ‘also’.

..

📙 “… she was walking on the footpath, which, you know, is raised a good way above the road, and a gentleman rode beside her, and was talking to her, and she was looking down at some primroses she had gathered, and pulling them all to pieces, and I do believe she was crying.”

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford 

Here we have an example of ‘beside’, which means ‘next to’ or ‘close by’. And here below are some other sentences from Cranford where Gaskell could easily have substituted ‘beside’ for ‘close to’ or ‘near to’:

..

📙 ‘… the counting-house, where he paid his labourers their weekly wages at a great desk near the door.’

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford (emphasis mine)

Rephrasing it with ‘beside’, it would read as follows:

✒️ … the counting-house, where he paid his labourers their weekly wages at a great desk beside the door.

Or this sentence:

📙 ‘She gave me some good reason for wearing her best cap every day, and sat near the window, in spite of her rheumatism, in order to see, without being seen, down into the street.’

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford (emphasis mine)

Again, ‘beside’ simply means ‘at the side of’:

✒️ She gave me some good reason for wearing her best cap every day, and sat beside the window, in spite of her rheumatism, in order to see, without being seen, down into the street.


📝 PUNCTUATION:

✍️ When using ‘besides’ as an afterthought (for example, in the second half of a sentence), don’t forget to add a comma after it:

📙 ‘… she should not mind the number, if Martha didn’t. Besides, the next was to be called Deborah— a point which Miss Matty had reluctantly yielded to Martha’s stubborn determination that her first-born was to be Matilda.’ 

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford (emphasis mine)

📝 SOME FIXED PHRASES THAT HAVE PARTICULAR MEANING:

Here is a sentence I have written based on the story of Matty in Cranford:

✒️ She was beside oneself when she discovered that her brother was not dead in a faraway country, but standing right in front of her!

This phrase – ‘beside oneself’ – describes very strong manifestation or show of emotion. It can be great grief, or great excitement or disbelief (as my sentence above would have it). 

Another fixed sentence is ‘beside the point’. This means that the ‘point’ is something that is important, and whatever is ‘beside’ that point is something that seems to be connected but isn’t that important. Imagine the following conversation between two people who have read Cranford: 

For example,

✒️ Person 1: ‘Peter ran away from his family because he was offended by his father’s treatment of him.’ 

✒️ Person 2: ‘Yes, but that is beside the point – even though he was hurt, he knew that his family loved him and so there was no reason to run away.’ 

In other words, the second speaker is saying that Peter’s offence is not the main issue here – the most important thing to keep in mind was that his family loved him and that was greater or more important than Peter’s hurt feelings.

📝 A SHORT QUIZ:

We will finish our Lesson with a short quiz to make sure you understand and distinguish ‘beside’ from ‘besides’.

Here are two sentences I have written, loosely based on a scene in Cranford: 

✒️ ‘They walked down the road together – a gentleman beside Matilda and the little girl.’

✒️ ‘They walked down the road together – a gentleman besides Matilda and the little girl.’

👉 Can you tell the difference now between them?

Here are my answers:

In the first sentence, we are saying that the gentleman walked next to or close to – beside – Matilda and the little girl. 

In the second, we are saying that in addition to Matilda and the little girl, there was a third person (the gentleman).

You might also enjoy

by Joyce E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2021)