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I am wondering whether "keep clear of sb./sth.;" and "keep (sb./sth.) away (from sb./sth.)" can be interchangeable.

Do the following sentences have the same meaning?

Please keep clear of the barking dog.

Please keep (yourself) away (from the barking dog.)

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  • Essentially the same. clear: "adv. 2. Out of the way; completely away: stood clear of the doors.
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 2:19

1 Answer 1

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It is unusual to see either used reflexively (Keep yourself {clear of/away from} the dog) in contexts where actual physical separation is involved; we tend to simply delete the object whenever it's the same as the subject:

Keep your child clear of the dog and Keep your child away from the dog but
Keep clear of the dog and Keep away from the dog.

Away from suggests stronger separation than clear of: away from is "Don't go anywhere near the dog" or "Avoid the dog's presence entirely", but clear of is "Don't go too near the dog".

And since clear is only metaphorically equivalent to "at a physical distance", it is more likely to be used in contexts where the distance itself is metaphorical:

Keep clear of involvement with those people.

In fact, clear with a reflexive object is acceptable in contexts where clear of has a sense of free of rather than at a distance from.

He was at some pains to keep himself clear of implication in the activities of his former mob friends.

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  • What about "...to keep clear of the activities of his former mob friends"? :)
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 3:02
  • @KinzleB That's fine, but away from would be OK there, too--it implies "at a distance", physical or figurative. But Keep himself clear of the activities feels klunky to me. Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 3:14
  • I like your recent edits; a military usage "all clear" rings the bell. :)
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 3:19

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