If we want to say "near the river" or "near the lake" which preposition is more accurate by or at?

I think when speaking about a river or lake by is better. Am I right? I mean when we are situated near by, somewhere close to the river or lake, near the bank of the river or on the beach by-side the lake.

  • "About a river" is too vague. Are you going to cross the river, stroll along it, have a picnic? The choice of preposition will depend on such things. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 28 '17 at 19:00
  • "near the river" is fine. Why do you want to change it and then expect the same meaning (which is really unclear, by the way)? – user3169 Aug 28 '17 at 21:25
  • Don't confuse the idea of being at a location, with being near it or by it. – Lambie Aug 29 '17 at 14:41
  • I understand what you're asking, but you really can't boil it down so succinctly. You can be at a river, or by a river, and, in one sense, they mean the same thing, but in another sense, context can provide nuances that might make one preposition more apt than another. When it comes to prepositions, you just have to accept that there is often a lot of overlap, and no simple rule that will always tell you when one word might be better than the other. – J.R. Aug 29 '17 at 21:19
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    @Sovereign - You can see the overlap, but what you are failing to see is that sometimes there is no "better" preposition to use. To say that "at always means closer than by" misses the point. You are overthinking it. I might go so far as to say that "at can often imply closer than by," but, if you said at in your sandcastle sentence, no one is going to take out a measuring tape and scold you because you were too far away from the river to use at. – J.R. Aug 30 '17 at 9:11

We were now at the river, but it was too full of ice to be crossed safely.

We were strolling by the river, enjoying the sun and the light breeze.

We stood at the river's edge, and discussed whether to use live bait or artificial lures.

We sat by the river, listening to the ducks.

  • So actually both are quite fine when we mean some short distance from the river/lake? – SovereignSun Aug 29 '17 at 6:36
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    They're not interchangeable. When you're at the river you have reached it, having traveled to get there. When you're by the river, you're next to it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 29 '17 at 9:23
  • Doesn't "at" mean "near"? Consider, "We are standing at the door" and "We are standing by the door" - both mean "near", don't they? – SovereignSun Aug 29 '17 at 9:30
  • @SovereignSun: You're near the right idea, but not at it yet. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 29 '17 at 9:34
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – J.R. Aug 29 '17 at 21:20
  • After many days hiking, we were finally at the river. [geographical location just like at home, at school at the train station. To be at a place: location]

  • We hiked to the river but did not sit down in the grass near the river. We say some distance away. [near: close to a place or thing].

  • We sat by the river on a bench and talked for hours. [by is alongside]

    Another example: Come sit down by me. Don't be shy.

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