I am reading a book, and one sentence which reads:

he lived in the trailer down by the creek

But I cannot understand "down by".

  • Creek: - narrow area of water that flows into the land from the sea, a lake, etc. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/creek
    – user5267
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 19:22
  • Hi I know what is the meaning of creek as well as trailer. But, I do not know the meaning of "down by the x".
    – Kim
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 19:25
  • "Down by the [...]" is a regional expression. It's not standard English. It means exactly the same thing as "by the [...]."
    – R Mac
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 19:27
  • 3
    Sounds pretty standard to me (American). We can and do say "up on the mountain", "down to the ocean", "down the road", and so on. "Down by the river, I shot my baby..." Stylistically redundant, perhaps, but definitely standard usage. Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:16
  • 1
    Note that water seeks the lowest possible level, so bodies of water (including static ones, like ponds and lakes, and flowing ones, like creeks and rivers) are typically at a lower altitude than the surrounding countryside. Therefore, down might simply mean down, as in, "If you go down the street [downhill], you'll find a creek; that's where he lived." Compare: "I saw a bird building a nest up by the chimney." Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 3:37

4 Answers 4


In R Cowan's 'The Teacher's Grammar of English: A Course Book and Reference Guide' (Chapter 8: Positions of Occurrence ... p150 Preposition + Preposition Combinations) is found:

Sequences made up of two prepositions, such as from behind and down to, occur frequently.... The first preposition can often be followed by [any of] a number of others. For example, from occurs freely with prepositions such as behind, inside and beside, [while] down occurs freely with prepositions such as beside, around and by.

He took the package from behind / inside / beside / [on top of] / [underneath] the box and gave it to her.

She wandered down beside / around / by the river.

The semantics involved is rather complex.

(a) As @Scott says in a comment, the preposition + prepositional phrase construct (down by ...) may well be taken literally, 'beside the creek, down where it flows through its valley'.

(b) Another less literal sense is given by CDO:

down adverb (FAR)

down B1 used, especially with prepositions, to emphasize that a place is at some distance from you or from somewhere considered to be central:

I'll meet you down at the gym after work.

He has a house down by the harbour.

I'm going down to the shop to buy some milk.

(The 'adverb' classification is one I'd reject.)

(c) As RMac says, a largely bleached sense is also in use, probably [via] a colloquial / lyrical development from the second sense above:

'Gonna lay down my sleepy head ... Down by the riverside ...'

'Down by yon flowery garden my love and I we first did meet.' / Down by the Salley Gardens, a poem by William Butler Yeats

'Down by the Station in Kirkwood, Missouri'

While semantically bleached, this usage adds a poetic and/or friendly feel.

But none of these usages can be labelled non-standard, which term F. Parker and K. Riley, in Linguistics for Non-Linguists, 1994 define:

... a nonstandard dialect does draw negative attention to itself; that is, educated people might judge the speaker of such a dialect as socially inferior, lacking education, and so on. A nonstandard dialect can thus be characterized as having socially marked forms, such as ain't. A socially marked form is one that causes the listener to form a negative social judgment of the speaker.


"Down by the [...]" is a regional expression. It's not standard English. It means exactly the same thing as "by the [...]."

  • 1
    Could you please add supporting material for your claim that 'down by the river' (etc) is non-standard? I'm inclined to disagree. And it can certainly have the meaning 'down [the lane, etc] and by the river' as well as the largely bleached reading for 'down'. The book 'Down by the River' by Grace Hallworth published in 1996 was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal the following year. Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 19:43
  • There is no such thing as supporting material that something isn't something else. Rather, I'd instead challenge anyone who disagrees with producing references that it is. The title of a fictional book (or even a non-fictional one, for that matter) can be still be considered nonstandard because authors often intentionally use nonstandard language in an effort to emulate the dialect of a specific region or culture.
    – R Mac
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 20:21
  • @EdwinAshworth What about a music video with 3.4 million views on YouTube youtu.be/lbq4G1TjKYg PJ Harvey's Down by the water
    – k1eran
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 20:24
  • 1
    Yes there's material that can disprove an assertion, for example no hit on google book, or references that discuss the point, or in this case a note in a dictionary that says " regional".
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 20:30
  • 3
    While it may not be necessary to say down, its not "non-standard." Rivers, creeks, etc. are usually "down" i.e. lower in elevation. So frequently instead of just "by the river" people say "down by the river." And frequently instead of just "on the mountain" or "on the hill" they say "up on the mountain / hill." How is that "non-standard"?
    – developerwjk
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:30

Easy answer: down by = next to


Q. What is the meaning of “down by the creek”?

A. “along the creek” along preposition (AT A PARTICULAR PLACE)

at a particular place on a road, river, etc.

As much as I admire some of the eloquent arguments proposed by my peers. The Cambridge English Dictionary simply puts the the meaning of down as along They also think it is Standard English.

Whilst down used as the preposition (TO) is classified as non standard in the UK

I went down the pub with my mates.

down preposition (ALONG) REF C.E.F.

We drove down the highway as far as Atlanta.

Her office is down the corridor on the right.

They sailed the boat down the river (= towards the sea)

down preposition (TO)

UK not standard to:

along preposition (AT A PARTICULAR PLACE) Ref C.E.F.

at a particular place on a road, river, etc.:


Somewhere along this road there's a garage.

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