Please read the text below.

When Arthur came home from the factory a little before noon he shouted, "Stay out of my way till I wash! There's been an accident over at the works!" Nobody answered. Mrs. Feare, the housekeeper, was talking on the kitchen telephone so loudly that she could not hear him, and his daughter was of course at school.

"Carried Away" by Alice Munro

What would differ if I replace over at with at?

What does over add?

  • 3
    I think he shouted that because he thought of "over at the works" the same way he might think of "over there", where "at the works" was thought of as a place. Jun 23, 2014 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


Some 'compound prepositions' have very different meanings from their primary component, but over at is semantically indistinguishable from at. Over at may always be reduced to bare at. However, as FumbleFingers, the reverse is not true; over at can replace at only if at bears a spatial sense, not in uses like at work or at all events or at a price of.

Over at is a colloquialism, not used in formal written English, and I think its use is mostly a matter of rhythm. Note that in spoken English simple prepositions are usually unstressed, but in compound prepositions the first element usually takes more stress thatn the second, so when a compound preposition is used it that first element always has at least secondary stress:

There's been an ++accident at the ++works!
There's been an ++accident +over at the ++Works!

Sometimes, if it's a supplement, it even takes the same stress as the object:

There's been an ++accident — ++over at the ++works!

If there is a semantic component here, it may be that the compound preposition takes some of the emphasis off of the specific place and onto the more general notion of “not here but somewhere else”. But that's just a guess ...

  • 2
    I think it's worth mentioning that over at always has the "spatial displacement" sense, which plain at doesn't necessarily have. Thus the default interpretation (or at least, nuance) for "I was at work" differs from "I was over at work". Jun 24, 2014 at 1:44
  • @FumbleFingers Good point. I will steal it. Jun 24, 2014 at 2:16

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