# Does "next to" mean "to the right" or "to the left"?

According to Oxford Learner's Dictionary,

next to

1. in or into a position right beside somebody/something

2. following in order or importance after somebody/something

If:

A is next to B

it should mean that A is immediately beside B (as per the cited definition). I would normally assume that A comes after B or is to to B's right.

## Context

I'm trying to the solve the "Einstein's Riddle" and two of the givens are:

• The Norwegian lives in the first house.
• The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.

If the Norwegian is the first house in a row of five houses, it can't possibly come after the blue house. In this case, knowing the correct position is most important. What should I assume? I'm arranging the houses horizontally from left to right. So, will the N house be leftmost? If so, will the blue house be to its right?

## Question

Now the question is:

Is A to the right of B? Or to the left?

Definition #2 seems to suggest that A comes after B — that is, to the right (assuming things are ordered from left to right, as is generally).

However, if A and B are next to each other, A is to the right of B, and B is to the left of A. Either ways are possible then.

Which one is a correct interpretation of 'next to'?

• "Next to" does not suggest a specific position, but just closeness.
– user5267
Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:10
• The two definitions given are disjoint. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:15
• I feel like logic alone should tell you that the blue house can only be on one side. Right or left is not given because it is a riddle. Determine which side has a house and which side doesn't; that will tell you which side.
– Hank
Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:28
• Definition 2 refers to statements like, "Next to brushing, flossing is the most important way to preserve oral health." Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:51
• @choster: Good point. Interestingly, Which number (singular) is next to 4? in that context would be a badly-formed question, because normally next to carries no particular "sequential, ascending" connotations. But in Cleanliness is next to godliness there's absolutely no doubt it means [slightly] below, not "[just] above, beyond, following". Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 16:23

The meaning of 'next to' has already been well answered here, but I would like to add in context:

This question introduced me to Einstein's "five houses" riddle which I worked on for an hour and solved 2 days back. Since houses are assumed to be arranged horizontally in the riddle, the Norwegian lives in the first house from left or right and the house 'next to' it is EITHER the house second from left or the (4th) house second from right. Selecting either end apparently does not affect the final question of the puzzle though the exact solution may differ a little.

Note: As pointed out in an earlier answer here, the key with the regular usage of 'first' and 'next to' is not to assume that something is the 'first thing' from the left or that 'next to' means to the right (or left) of something else unless it is specifically mentioned. Otherwise we should proceed with an open mind.

Note 2: a very perceptive answer at ELL did point out the houses could even be arranged in a circle except that the clue 'first' house suggests a linear arrangement.

The word "next", in talking about physical location, is the same as adjacent. Physically close, and if there is a set of objects, there is no object between them.

In using the word "next" in reference to something that comes after the current thing, there needs to be a direct ordering. For example, in a queue

Bob is after Joe in the queue. Joe is currently being served, and Bob is next.

You could use "next to" in an example like this, but I have never heard it used to imply ordering, and would only assume in this next example that Bob and Joe were adjacent, and would need more information to know who is first. in fact, were someone to say something like this to me, I would initially assume that Bob and Joe were sharing the same place in the queue- one is not in front of the other.

Bob and Joe are in the queue. Bob is next to Joe.

The Norwegian lives in the first house.
The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.

I would definitely assume that the Norwegian's house and the blue house are adjacent, but would make no assumption of ordering just based on these two statements.

Going into further detail to explain the second definition of "next to" that you mentioned.

Merriam-Webster only has two definitions for "next to":

1: immediately following or adjacent to
2: in comparison to-- "next to you I'm wealthy"

If I were to use the first usage in an ordered sense, it would be something like

Starting from the left of the photo, we have Bob. Standing next to him is Joe.

But again, "next to" doesn't give the ordering- the implied ordering (Joe is obviously on the right of Bob) comes from the other things I have said ("starting from the left"), not from the term "next to".

The second definition is idomatic. "next to you I'm wealthy" implies something like "were we to stand next to each other and compare our wealth, I would appear wealthy."

An idiomatic usage that is very similar to M-W's second use is noted in the Dictionary.com entry:

9 c aside from: Next to cake, ice cream is my favorite dessert.

Again, this implies an imaginary ranking of favorite desserts. Cake would be at the top, followed by ice cream.

• The line where Bob and Joe is vertical. I'm talking about two objects placed horizontally i.e. beside each other. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 16:05
• @Tyrannosaur - As far as "next to" for ordering goes, an example phrase would be "Chris is next to Andy in importance to the company" means that if you listed all the employees from most important at the top to least important at the bottom, Andy would be directly above Chris. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 16:21
• @AndyT Exactly. The ordering in your idiomatic phrase is implied by the rest of the sentence- "in importance to the company". Dictionary.com gives the idiomatic usage "aside from: Next to cake, ice cream is my favorite dessert." I wanted to mention this usage in my answer, but thought it would complicate things to the point of confusion. edit: looking at the new comments on the question, it looks like this is an important point. I will add it to my answer Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 17:06

I feel here in Oxford the word 'right' shows closeness. So the meaning of 'next to' is nearby... either it is in right or left.

• agreed: "right beside" means "directly adjacent to" without an implied direction. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:48
• Hello, Nandini. Please don't endorse questions not suitable for ELU with an 'answer'. // OP surely shows that they know which sense of 'right' is intended here: "it should mean that A is immediately beside B (as per the cited definition)" Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:48
• @EdwinAshworth I'd say it's borderline not suitable but I wouldn't say it's obvious as black and white that it needs to be closed or moved to ELL. By that I mean it would be hard for a new user to know it's not a question that they should answer.
– Hank
Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:50
• @Hank ELU is a site aimed at linguists, not learners.'Does “next to” mean “to the right” or “to the left”?' would make most 10-year-old UK or US school-children wonder what was going on. I think it should be expected that new users make an effort to assess site protocols. There are many sites aimed at helping learners, but some people seem intent on making that a necessary feature of all EL sites. And there aren't many that have the for-advanced-speakers ethos. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 15:57
• @EdwinAshworth I'm not contesting what the site aim is, but I do think that this question could cause confusion for a non-native speaker, not just ones who are learning but just aren't native. This question may be closed for the reasons you give but I don't think it's black and white enough to expect a new user to know this. My opinion is not final, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if this question stays open.
– Hank
Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 16:04