Let's say you are in a classroom. You are the red square. What to call the position of the yellow seats in relation to you?

I thought of using "next," but I think that doesn't apply to the seats in front and behind the red square.

I also thought of "encircling," but that would include the green squares on the corners.

Example sentence:

The classmate who's bullying Mark must be sitting __

enter image description here

  • There is no way to accurately and unambiguously refer to these other than a lengthy phrase such as "the seats immediately in front and back of me and those immediately on either side". There may be a mathematical/geometric term, but such would be unknown to the vast majority of people.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 21:30

9 Answers 9


The yellow squared are "adjacent" to the red square.

From: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adjacent

Definition of adjacent 1a: not distant : NEARBY the city and adjacent suburbs b: having a common endpoint or border adjacent lots adjacent sides of a triangle c: immediately preceding or following

In this case "b" is the relevant definition, "having a common endpoint or border".

  • 2
    Are the diagonally adjacent squares also adjacent? The OP asks how to explicitly refer to the orthogonally adjacent squares. By your reasoning you could also refer to the yellow squares as 'near' the red square.
    – EllieK
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 12:31
  • 6
    In common speech, ‘adjacent’ may or may not include diagonally-adjacent squares. (All the puzzles I've seen always specify explicitly whether diagonally-adjacent squares are included or not. If there were a common, unambiguous term, they'd use that instead!)
    – gidds
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 18:00
  • 1
    @jwh20 For context, I'm a pure mathematician and work in an area where the word "adjacent" is commonly used. I would still assume it excludes diagonally even in a mathematical context. Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 9:36
  • 1
    "Adjacent" is a bit formal, though - this is ELL, so it's important to note how the word would be used. In a casual conversational context this could be a stuffy and awkward word to use instead of simply "next to". Consider : "Where did you leave the orange juice?" -> "Oh, it's adjacent to the breadbox, juxtaposed parallel to the cutting board". Seriously, nobody speaks this way. If you were writing assembly instructions for a home product, though, it's a totally acceptable word to use. Context is everything.
    – J...
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 12:23
  • 4
    @J...: "next to" may be more casual but it generally implies to the side and not so much in front/behind. I wouldn't describe someone who stands behind me as standing "next to me". Whether "next to" and "adjacent" are synonymous or not is a very contextual consideration. Also, I disagree about how formal you claim adjacent to be. Precision and formality are two very different concepts. If you're already dealing with a grid of objects, adjacency (as opposed to relative vicinity) is already the implied level of precision you're working with, so the language fits with the context.
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 13:04

In this particular case, I would probably say, "The classmate who's bullying Mark must be sitting in one of the four adjacent seats."

Saying "the four adjacent seats" makes the sentence unambiguous, and it avoids using the word "orthogonally", which is a technical term that I wouldn't expect every native speaker to know.


They are orthogonally adjacent to the red square.

The green squares at the corners of the red square are diagonally adjacent.


If you want to be very general and elicit a subsequent barrage of clarifying questions from your intended audience about the inclusion of the diagonally adjacent squares, you could say they border or are adjacent to the red square.

  • And we really do use that large, ungainly word, "orthogonally".
    – EllieK
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 17:28
  • 4
    Only when forced to be utterly unambiguous. :)
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 20:39
  • 3
    @EllieK: Only if we happen to be mathematicians, computer programmers, or the like :-)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 3:54
  • @jamesqf There is no other way to say it, regardless of profession. The OP asks how to explicitly refer to orthogonally adjacent squares. Saying they are merely 'adjacent' implies the diagonally adjacent squares are also included.
    – EllieK
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 12:30
  • 2
    Most typical native English speakers will not know the word 'orthogonal'. This is almost exclusively a technical term.
    – J...
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 12:08

You could use a number of words including:

  • adjacent
  • surrounding

Adjacent would be my preference - note that the word has a more specific meaning in mathematics, but in English grammar can mean "next to" in any direction, including to the sides, in front or behind. On its own, "next to" does tend to mean to the left or right sides.

Your suggestion of "encircling" doesn't sound quite right as the pattern of the chairs in your image is not a circle, which is is what it specifically means - to form a circle around. "Surrounding" is synonymous with "encircling", but does not specifically mean the shape of a circle.

  • "Surrounding" (which is quite similar to "encircling") carries a meaning that doesn't apply in all cases, and it especially wouldn't apply if you were just talking about one or some of the adjacent objects. For something to be surrounding something else, it actually has to surround it, i.e. be on all sides of it (roughly speaking). Simply being next to something does not qualify as surrounding it.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 8:45
  • @NotThatGuy You're right that you wouldn't refer to a single chair as "surrounding" another, but referring to all of them you could definitely say "the surrounding chairs", or "one of the surrounding chairs". If the chairs were all in a row, then it wouldn't be right, but they are in all directions, so it applies. It is certainly synonymous with "encircling" except that specifically means to form a circle around, and there is no circular shape.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 11:45

"One seat away from Mark" also identifies the seats on each side, and in front and back. It does not exclude the diagonally adjacent seats.


Nobody has come out and said it yet, so I will.

There's nothing whatsoever wrong with "next".

 The classmate who's bullying Mark must be sitting next to him.

This is perfectly normal, acceptable, every-day English that will be perfectly understood and will not seem awkward or weird at all. It applies perfectly well to the seats ahead and behind as much as it does to the ones to the sides. Without the drawing, a speaker may also consider the four corner desks also to be "next" to the central one, but this is not really important.

I think the rest of the answers here are making this much more complicated than it needs to be.

  • 1
    Does next imply to the sides? I would consider the person sitting in front of Mark to be in front of him instead of next to him
    – EllieK
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 12:34
  • @EllieK "Next" is a very simple, very common, very old word - it can be used in a lot of ways and its specific meaning is always somewhat dependent on context. It can be used for both cases, certainly. Many dictionaries will even use "next to" as the definition for adjacent and will use "adjacent" to define "next to". Usually English is not so worried about precision like this outside of technical writing. I think the classroom example is perfect - people will understand that the sentence is saying that someone "near" Mark must be to blame. Exactly which seats is not so important.
    – J...
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 12:36
  • But what everyone seems to be missing is that the OP asked how to be very specific in referring to the four squares not how to refer to those squares in gereral non specific ways.
    – EllieK
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 13:46
  • 1
    @EllieK Yes, but they also used an example where, in normal conversational English, we would not worry about that specific distinction. Since this is ELL I'm taking OP's question in the context of an English learner where this distinction may be more common and coversational in their native language but where English lacks such specificity in normal informal use. If OP is looking for formal technical language to use in a more rigorous context then I agree we need to know that and that a different word may be more appropriate in that case.
    – J...
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 14:15


You could say that those positions are immediately surrounding the central point

If we look at the definitions for "Immediate", we can see:

Having no object or space intervening; nearest or next


Having a direct bearing

This becomes more clear if we remove the space from between the objects in the image.


The green objects are obstructing the yellow objects. In other words, there is no direct, unobstructed path from the red square to any of the yellow ones.

  • Please explain how "immediately surrounding" would not include the green corner chairs.
    – Davo
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 14:58

Another term would be "contiguous":

Definition of contiguous
1: being in actual contact : touching along a boundary or at a point
"the 48 contiguous states"


The classmate who's bullying Mark must be sitting in a cardinal point

cardinal point

Each of the four main points of the compass (north, south, east, and west).

  • ‘More interestingly, under the dome, four chiming clocks were set facing in the four cardinal points.’
  • And what if e.g. the bottom-right square has azimuth 0? Then none of the yellow seats would be in a cardinal point.
    – Ruslan
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 5:10
  • @Ruslan good grief, I had to look up the meaning of azimuth and within a millisecond I knew I would not understand nor would I care. Yes, anything is possible. You are absolutely right. However, a "cardinal point" still refers to one of four perpendicular positions. P.S. I'm not sure I'm using "perpendicular" correctly :O
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 7:07
  • Well, dunno what there's not to understand: an angle from true north. So azimuth 0° is the true north. Thus if the top-left (green) square in the image points to the north, then it's in a cardinal point, and all the yellow ones are not.
    – Ruslan
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 7:11
  • Ahh, I see. Thank you @Ruslan but this isn't a problem of map reading or star gazing, it's only comparing the four positions around the central desk as if you were looking at a picture of a compass: N, E, S and W. It's representative, and I couldn't repeat "adjacent" as several others have done so since, so I gave an original, albeit generic, option.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 7:18
  • 2
    I (a 27-year-old American) wouldn't understand what somebody meant if they said that the bully "must be sitting in a cardinal point". My first guess would be that the bully is sitting in the very northernmost, southernmost, easternmost or westernmost point in the entire room. My second guess would probably be that the bully is sitting at some type of special, distinguished desk. The intended interpretation might be my third or fourth guess. Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 3:17

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