What does '' to '' mean in the examples I gave below ? Which item in dictionaries does it correspond to? I couldn't understand.

Elbow is distal to the shoulder.

Elbow is proximal to the wrist.

Put a phone charger next to your bed






  • It might help us answer better if we knew how you're going to apply this information. It's likely that whatever context you want it for, it's possible to do what you want without having a specific dictionary definition.
    – gotube
    Nov 3 at 19:51
  • "Distal" and "proximal" aren't common vocabulary; most English speakers, if they know these words at all, would consider them medical jargon. I wouldn't advise learners to use these words other than in technical anatomical contexts. Nov 14 at 11:51

2 Answers 2


Prepositions are "function" words, primarily relevant to syntax / grammar rather than semantics / meaning. But preposition "to" often implies (spatial or metaphoric) relationship / proximity of some kind.

OP's "distal" and "proximal" examples would always be "literal" spatial relationships, but in something like Cleanliness is next to godliness, it's more figurative.

You might find it helpful to note that near, by, alongside, beside, for example, are all alternatives that could "more or less" replace "to" in your contexts.


From Merriam-Webster, this is the closest:

1 e —used as a function word to indicate relative position
// perpendicular to the floor

It appears that this might be correct as in both phrases we can insert "relative" before "to" and maintain its meaning and grammaticality:

perpendicular relative to the floor
distal relative to the shoulder

"Next to" is a different structure, as we cannot insert "relative":

next relative to your bed

Some linguists argue that "next to" is a two-word preposition, with the same function and syntax as the preposition "beside" in terms of describing relative physical location. I can't find any links to support this claim, but if this is true, then it means "to" in the context of "next to the bed" isn't a word on its own, and so doesn't have a definition.


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