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I heard on an American English language learners App a sentence where the girl said she was close to her grandad. From the context this was meant to mean a "special relationship". My understanding is that you cannot use "to" in this instance as this means close proximity unless you have already defined the subject is the relationship.

"My grandfather and I are close".

"My brother and I have become much closer over the years".

"Her relationship isn't good with her father, but she's very close to her mother".

Is my understanding correct and is there any difference between US and UK English?

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  • When someone says "My grandfather and I", or "my brother and I", they are defining the subject as a relationship (between grandfather and grandchild, or between siblings). Apr 24 at 13:55
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    We're less likely to use the preposition-based format in the figurative "intimate, familiar, friendly, chummy" sense (which is more often conveyed using forms like We're close). But that's nowhere near being a rule. In short - your understanding that you cannot use "to" in this instance is WRONG. Apr 24 at 14:59
  • Some interesting answers thank you all. However I would like to make a comment. To native speakers "The meaning is obvious from the context" but to non native speakers this may not be the case. Which in this case is the point and not a "rule" that I was (rightly or wrongly) making. After all this is the learners web site.
    – Brad
    Apr 26 at 3:41
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You normally don't need to define the meaning of 'close' because everybody understands that people have relationships. When defining a personal relationship, (e.g. when starting by saying 'my brother and I...'), 'close' has a usually understood meaning 'in a warm relationship'. Because of this, if we mean to discuss physical proximity we might say (e.g.) 'I am standing right next to my brother'. Also context makes meaning clear.

My mother and aunt are close; I live in a small house and the shops are close. It is understood that the first 'close' is refers to a personal relationship, and the second to a physical location. This is true in all varieties of English.

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  • Define "I am close to my brother" ...Is she giving directions to someone looking for her or does she get on with him really well??
    – Brad
    Apr 24 at 10:26
  • Is her next to her? Apr 24 at 10:27
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    Is she talking about personal relationships or telling someone her physical location? The meaning is obvious from the context. Apr 24 at 12:30
  • I don't think I'd often use "I'm close to [a person]" to mean location anyway — I'd say "I'm near them". Apr 24 at 15:33
  • @BeginTheBeguine - A UK TV ad for deodorant in the 1960s said "Make sure you're nice to be near!" Apr 24 at 15:48
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Close When used as an adjective, can be used when talking about physical distances.

The grocery store is close. = The grocery store is near.

In this case "close" and "near" can be used in the same way and it is relatively easy to determine that "close means a physical distance.

As a preposition, "Close" can only be used with the word 'to'.

I am close to the library. = I am near the library.

Don't stand so close to the fire = Don't stand so near the fire

Once again "close" and "near" can be used in a similar way and it is relatively easy to determine that "close means a physical distance.


When talking about more abstract concepts, like relationships, then we rely more heavily on the context to indicate the way a word, in this case "close" is being used.

In this example, we could equally assume that

"she's very close to her mother" = "she's very near her mother" or they have a strong relationship.

From the lack of context there is ambiguity regarding the meaning of close. Yes, we could make an assumption, that it relates to a relationship, which may well be correct however it would only ever be an assumption.


Whilst in the statement

"My brother and I have become much closer over the years" = Their relationship has become stronger.

From the context there is no ambiguity over the meaning of the use close.

Prepositions and abstract meanings; prepositions that show relationships of space often have abstract as well as concrete meanings.

"Her relationship isn't good with her father, but she's very close to her mother". = They have a special relationship.

Again from the context there is no ambiguity over the meaning of the use of close as the subject of relationships has been clearly identified.


Therefore it can be suggested the meaning of close in the abstract when used in the preposition "close to" can be misunderstood unless the context clearly identifies the use of the abstract. Which probably explains why

we are less likely to use the preposition-based format in relation to the abstract.


Ref C.E.D. Prepositions: uses

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