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English is not my first language. I am confused between

Can we go there?

and

Can we go over there?

According to a Google Translate translation of both, the sentences mean the same. So why should one ever use 'over'?

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Some languages, such as Japanese or Spanish, have three pronouns for location to mean here, there, and some distance farther away. English does not. Along with other expressions, "over there" can fill in for the pronoun that means "farther away", at least in terms of visible physical distance.

Which is to say, when talking about physical distances (usually with locations that are visible from where you stand) "over there" may imply a greater distance than using "there" by itself.

It's so crowded at the beach today! I do see a patch of empty sand over there, if you don't mind walking.

The challenge is that "there" can also be used for figurative distances, so by itself it doesn't mean "relatively close". Example:

A: I'd like to visit France.
B: Me too! Maybe we can go there someday.

Furthermore, "over there" can also imply crossing over some object or barrier, such as the Atlantic Ocean:

(Two people living in the United States)
A: I'd like to visit France.
B: Me too! Maybe we can go over there someday.

Here "over" not only implies greater distance, but also that you have to cross over the ocean to get there.

To make things more confusing, sometimes "over there" simply emphasizes the direction of the location:

If you're looking for your keys, they're over there on the table (pointing).

Anyway, this is probably not a comprehensive list of all the possible meanings for "over there". You may have to judge what the speaker means from context. Also, it is not the only possible expression to indicate distance or direction, as "out there", "up there", "down there", and various others can also mean the same thing.

  • But people will often say 'go over' to a place that is very nearby. "I'm going over to my friend's place this afternoon". I got the impression that was more the sense that the OP meant. – fred2 Mar 5 at 18:48
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    I think it's a little more slippery than simply "over there" being farther than plain "there". Example: "What do you mean you lost your keys? They're right over there." = very short distance. – Lorel C. Mar 5 at 19:02
  • @LorelC. I've edited my answer to include your example. Thanks for reminding me. – Andrew Mar 6 at 0:23
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To go over has a slightly different meaning to to go. As this dictionary explains, to go over means

to make one's way (to a place).

It is a very fine distinction, as 'to go' can also be used to mean the same thing. However, English speakers will very often use the phase in sense of travelling a short distance to do something, often with a friend and to a familiar or customary place.

I'm going over to see Jim later today.

I went over earlier to pick up the documents

Would you like me to come over?

In each of these case 'to go over' implies an unnamed place - Jim's house, an office, or 'your place'.

It is, I suppose, an idiomatic usage, and not one that is strictly necessary a lot of the time, but it is a very common one.

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