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Let's say I am looking for X, and I ask my friend for it. He says pointing at the cupboard

It is at the shelf down below in the cupboard.

It is at the bottom shelf in the cupboard.

Do down below and bottom mean the same thing?

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The two sentences offered in your question aren't idiomatic American English (we don't say at the shelf but on the shelf), but they both mean approximately the same thing:

It's in the cupboard on {the bottom shelf / one of the lower shelves [CHOOSE ONE]}.

Down below and bottom don't mean the same thing, but the share the meaning of "in the lower part of" something.

The meaning depends on context. For example, if you're on a ship, down below means inside the belly of the ship and below the main deck (maybe in the engine room or the galley, a ship's kitchen and eating area). If you're looking for a book in a stack of 50 books on a desk in front of you, "on the bottom" means that the book you're looking for is probably one of the last 10 on the bottom of the stack rather than one of the first 10 on the top of the stack or one of the middle 30.

  • +1, Shouldn't it be 'at the bottom of the stack'? – Dude Apr 7 '13 at 12:54
  • @JoeDimaggio: Maybe in British English or in some other regional dialect of American English, but in my idiolect, it's on the bottom of the stack in this context. In some other sentence it might be at the bottom of the stack for me. Which preposition one uses sometimes doesn't matter a whit. OTOH, sometimes it does matter. It's all case-by-case. – user264 Apr 7 '13 at 13:04

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