This is from Neil Gaiman's Coraline:

Coraline went over to the window and watched the rain come down.

Consider also this quotation (I don't remember where I read it):

When Nana looked over to his side of the bed, he was no longer there.

I'm confused. Why not write simply Coraline went to the window and Nana looked to his side of the bed? Why was it necessary to add over?

1 Answer 1


The first one (Gaiman's) was not necessary, Alex. It was merely a stylistic choice.

The second one, however, was necessary because the meaning changes with or without "over." In English, "look to" is a different verb from "look at" or "look towards." "Looking to" may signify intention, as in "I was looking to improve my score on that game." Or, "looking to" may signify certain attitudinal stances, as in "I looked to the West to find my fortune." In this case, I was not literally "looking" anywhere; I was thinking about how if I moved to the West I might find my fortune. Or as in "I looked to the newly formed political party to rescue us from this political nightmare," which again does not mean I was literally looking at anything, but that I was hoping the newly formed political party was going to fix the political situation.

Therefore, you would not say anyone "looked to" his side of the bed. You have to say "looked over to" or "looked at" or something similar. The writer undoubtedly chose "looked over" (and here is where the sylistic choice comes in again) because it says the person was looking in that direction, perhaps with some hopefulness (or perhaps not), but the point is that it implies the person is in the process of doing something a little more than merely "looking at" that side of the bed.

  • 1
    "Omit needless words" was a phrase I heard with some regularity from my English professors. It is a popular quote from Stunk & White's Elements of Style.
    – Lumberjack
    Sep 27, 2013 at 20:54
  • 2
    @Lumberjack - "Omit needless words" is great advice, particularly when directed at writers who tend to use a lot of them (like college freshmen).
    – J.R.
    Sep 27, 2013 at 21:02

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