Flat vs level (street/road)

Li'l Bull

Senior Member
Spanish (Spain)
Hello, native speakers of English!

When a street or road doesn't go uphill or downhill we say it's flat or level (I think). Is there any difference between these two adjectives?

Thank you in advance.
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The thing is, I have never qualified roads that are flat or level.

    "After a mile, the road goes uphill and then flattens out and goes on for about two miles. Drive until the road starts to go downhill and then turn left."

    Technically, it is "The road does not have a gradient."

    It would really help if you gave a sentence.
     

    Li'l Bull

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    It would really help if you gave a sentence.
    Thank you, PaulQ. What I had in mind was an example like the following:

    "If a street goes uphill, we can say 'Go up this street for about 200 metres'; if the street goes downhill, the directions could be 'Go down this street...'; and if the street is level/flat, it seems logical to say 'go along this street...'"

    Is 'level/flat' used correctly here? Do they mean the same?
     

    Li'l Bull

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    Have you looked at this Li'l Bull?

    difference between level and flat?
    Thank you, Thomas.

    I've read all 10 posts in that thread and it doesn't throw much light on my question. Maybe it's the fact that I'm not a native speaker of English, but I'm not any clearer.

    Is 'level' better than 'flat' when we talk about land (and therefore roads, streets...)?

    Is it a matter of preference (as in the example of airplane seats)?
     

    waltern

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I would tend to say a "flat road" - "level" is perfectly correct but a little more technical sounding to me, like it's something the engineers building the road would talk about (are you familiar with the tool called a "spirit level" or "bubble level" used for doing carpentry etc.?)
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    and if the street lis level/flat does not go up or down, it seems logical to say 'go along this street...'"
    With roads and the use of "flat" and "level" the difficulty is that such adjectives are usually used to qualify the quality of the surface of the road. A surface of a road is, normally, called "the road". So any attempt to describe a horizontal stretch of road as "flat" or "level" will end up as a description of its surface.
     
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    Li'l Bull

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    With roads and the use of "flat" and "level" the difficulty is that such adjectives are usually used to qualify the quality of the surface of the road. A surface of a road is, normally, called "the road". So any attempt to describe a horizontal stretch of road as "flat" or "level" will end up as a description of its surface.
    Thank you, PaulQ. Your explanation makes perfect sense. However, is there really no adjective in English to describe a road that doesn't go up or down? (aside from 'horizontal')

    I'm thinking about something like "if the land/terrain is flat/level..." but maybe we're back to square one and, as you suggest, this also refers to the quality of the surface.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    No, strangely, with "land and terrain" flat is fine: "The county of Norfolk is uniformly flat." "They ploughed the field flat." "The army levelled the village."

    Honestly, I cannot come up with anything other than "does not go up or down"
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm perfectly happy with a road being level. It's everyday English. We talk about roads being straight and level.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Hmm... I would take that to be straight with a flat surface but to give no indication of a gradient.

    I must declare an interest: at one point I was involved in investigating road traffic accidents. An important part was the friction value and condition of the road surface and the gradient of the road. You could possibly write, "The road runs level between points A and B" and "The road runs on a level with the river." but not, "The road is level" as this would be seen as ambiguous.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    PaulQ, perhaps you are being too technical. Here's a text fragment from the BNC, taken from New Scientist:
    "... the common occurrence of a person, cruising quickly on a level road, and then wishing to increase speed. Pressing heavily on the ...". That seems to me to be the use of level that the OP is asking about.

    Edit
    Ooops, sorry - I was in a rush
    BNC = British National Corpus
     
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    Imber Ranae

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I don't see a problem with "level" in this sense, either. The precise meaning would of course depend on context.
    "If a street goes uphill, we can say 'Go up this street for about 200 metres'; if the street goes downhill, the directions could be 'Go down this street...'; and if the street is level/flat, it seems logical to say 'go along this street...'"

    Just to be clear: "down the street" and "up the street" do not usually imply actual vertical direction. The road could be completely level and these phrases might still be used.
     

    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    If you're talking about a railway track, the word is definitely level - level crossing. A gradient post will say 150/LEVEL, where 150 means 1 in 150. I think you can say flat or level when you're talking about roads. Perhaps flat is slightly better or at least more common but if anyone said level, I wouldn't feel this was wrong. (If you're laying a floor, you lay your planks of wood flat and make sure the floor is level. Racehorses run on the flat in races where they don't jump over fences.)
     

    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    I take Angygc's point. Perhaps level emphasises the idea of horizontalness. You lay a plank flat on the floor but you need a spirit level to make sure it's level. I suppose gradients are more important for trains than for cars. A car will hardly notice a 1 in 50 gradient but a railway engine will need to make an effort.
    An ironing-board needs to be flat even when it's not quite level.
     
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