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She couldn't talk with other people besides/apart from Mom and Dad.

He wasn't an expert in anything besides/apart from math and history.

Should it be "besides" or "apart from?" Or maybe both are correct since they mean the same thing?

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    To some extent, apart from is a "negative polarity" element, and besides is "positive polarity". So you should prefer She likes other people besides me, and She doesn't like other people apart from me, rather than the other way around. Nov 24, 2020 at 14:20
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica I've never thought about it that way. So, according to this logic, I should use "apart from" in both sentences?
    – wyc
    Nov 24, 2020 at 15:39
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    My "you should prefer..." and "to some extent" both imply that's the "better" choice (but you don't have to follow that advice). Whereas your "I should use..." implies the alternative is actually incorrect. It's not - it's just "less good" (in my opinion, but others may not make this distinction). Nov 24, 2020 at 16:41

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Besides means including. Apart from means excluding. In this sense, 'apart from' is similar to 'except for'. Let us make it clear with two examples;

Besides John, I invited all the boys. It means I invited John.

Apart from John, I invited all the boys. It means I didn't invite John.

She could not talk with other people besides Mom and Dad. It means she could not talk with Mom and Dad.

She could not talk with other people apart from Mom and Dad. It means she could talk with Mom and Dad.

He wasn't an expert in anything besides math and history. It means he wasn't an expert in math and history.

He wasn't an expert in anything apart from math and history. It means he was an expert in math and history.

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They are both correct. I would say that "besides" is informal and "apart from" is more formal. Probably the most formal would be "excepting"

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  • I think but is a fairly formal [poetic?] alternative to apart from. As in They had no friends but each other. But yeah - excepting might be even more "formal, starchy" in that context (if I could find it in Google Books, which I can't! :) Nov 24, 2020 at 14:24
  • Or just 'except'? Nov 24, 2020 at 15:09

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