one seat away from me / next to me

wanabee

Senior Member
Japanese
Dear all,

She sits one seat away from me at school.

I made up the sentence. I guess it means she sits next to me, since if she sits second next seat from me, it would be "she sits two seats away from me."
But I also have a feeling that it might mean she sits second next seat from me.

I would appreciate any comments or advice.
 
  • cherry676

    New Member
    English
    I don't think 'sits away' is appropriate. But I am not sure of what is correct. But I feel 'sits away' is false.
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    Hello Wanabee.

    Logically, I think that you are right about it meaning "she sits next to me". However, because "she sits next to me" would be the obvious and usual way of expressing that, I have to admit that I would probably feel the need to clarify the intended meaning with the speaker if they used your sentence (assuming that I felt it was important enough to bother, anyway!). :)
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I agree with The Prof.;)

    That said, as I read wanabee's post I thought 'No, I wouldn't say that, I'd say She sits next to me', but then it occurred to me that I'd quite happily say 'My best friend when I was a child in London used to live one house away from me' (i.e. next door).;)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    That said, as I read wanabee's post I thought 'No, I wouldn't say that, I'd say She sits next to me', but then it occurred to me that I'd quite happily say 'My best friend when I was a child in London used to live one house away from me' (i.e. next door).;)
    I would ask you who lived in that one house in between you and your best friend? :) It's still unclear to me.
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    If someone were doing mental arithmetic, and instead of arriving at the correct answer of 120, they arrived at the answer of 119, I would definitely say that they were one away, with the 'one' meaning 'one number'. Would that be acceptable in AE or not? Logically, I can't really see a difference between desks, houses and numbers in this context.

    However, I totally agree that the original construction, and London Calling's, are ambiguous - even though I too can imagine myself using the latter! ;)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Would that be acceptable in AE or not? Logically, I can't really see a difference between desks, houses and numbers in this context.
    There are lots things in natural languages that make no mathematical/logical sense. For example, moving an appointment forward moves it backward in time.
     

    akhooha

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    ...
    "She sits one seat away from me at school."
    I made up the sentence. I guess it means she sits next to me...
    No. It means that there is a seat between you and her, just as "She sits two feet away from me" would mean that there are two feet between you and her.
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    Some people would say "in the next seat but one from me". It's not an expression I use, but it is clear.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    No. It means that there is a seat between you and her, just as "She sits two feet away from me" would mean that there are two feet between you and her.
    Given the preceding discussion, I don't think you can say it definitely means that. Some people take it that way, others take it to mean "next to", but the consensus is that it's unclear.

    "Two feet away" and "one seat away" aren't comparable. Two feet (or one foot) is an interval, whereas seats are points.

    If "one seat away from me" means there's one seat between me and her, would you take "She sits three seats away from me" to mean that she's in the fourth seat from mine as I count along the row? Personally, I 'd take it to mean the third seat.

    But I do agree with everyone who says "one seat away" is potentially ambiguous, because, as The Prof said, it would be more natural to say "She sits next to me".

    Ws:)
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    This topic has made me realize that I have probably always misunderstood a sentence that I think of as typically American: "My friend only lives one block away".
    Previously, I would have taken that to mean 'in the next block', but presumably I was wrong, and it means that she lives 'in the next block but one'. Is that so?
    Well, you live and learn! :)
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    This topic has made me realize that I have probably always misunderstood a sentence that I think of as typically American: "My friend only lives one block away".
    Previously, I would have taken that to mean 'in the next block', but presumably I was wrong, and it means that she lives 'in the next block but one'. Is that so?
    That's a good point.

    The expression "one block away" may be used in slightly different ways. The way I use it, there is the length of one block between our houses. If I live in the first (let's say, northernmost) house on the 500 block, and my friend lives in the first house on the 600 block, then the friend lives exactly one block away. If the friend lives halfway or more along the block, then if you want to be precise, she lives a block and a half away. If I live in the last house of the 500 block, and my friend lives in the first house of the 600 block, we don't live a block away, but rather just across the street from each other.

    So in a way it's the same principle as "one seat away", in that there is one seat between the two people, or the length of one block between the two houses. There is usually not a full block (that is, two streets) between the houses.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm very surprised by the BE speakers input here. For me "she sits one seat away from me" means that there is a seat between us and could not possibly mean anything else. There's a sequence:
    next to, one place away, two places away, etc.
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    I'm very surprised by the BE speakers input here. For me "she sits one seat away from me" means that there is a seat between us and could not possibly mean anything else. There's a sequence:
    next to, one place away, two places away, etc.
    Hi Andygc. What's throwing a lot of us is that we can think of definite instances where we personally would take the construction to mean 'next to'. For instance, in my case, "she only lives a street away from me" would, to me, mean that she lives in the next street. Therefore, in that context, my own sequence would be "the same street, one street away, two streets away" etc. This is clearly a potentially misleading construction that is best avoided!
     
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    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Hi Andygc. What's throwing a lot of us is that we can think of definite instances where we personally would take the construction to mean 'next to'. For instance, in my case, "she only lives a street away from me" would, to me, mean that she lives in the next street. Therefore, in that context, my own sequence would be "the same street, one street away, two streets away" etc. This is clearly a potentially misleading construction that is best avoided!
    I agree 100%.;)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Hmm. I can't think of a situation where "a street away" would have such precision. To me it would mean a bit further away than "just down the road". I've never lived in a place where the streets are arranged in neat rows that allow "two streets away" to be an accurate measure. Unlike rows of seats and desks in a classroom.

    PS. I'll have to have a think about the difference between seats and streets.
     
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    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    PS. I'll have to have a think about the difference between seats and streets.
    Have a think about houses too, Andy.:) One house away from me to me means next door.;)

    PS When I was still living in London the streets were (still are, of course) arranged in neat rows, so I agree with the Prof. She lives in the next street means she lives in the street parallel .;)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Have a think about houses too, Andy.:) One house away from me to me means next door.;)

    PS When I was still living in London the streets were (still are, of course) arranged in neat rows, so I agree with the Prof. She lives in the next street means she lives in the street parallel .;)
    Which is the same as the next seat. So where's one street away? Tricky little blighters, these streets and seats.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I'm amazed by how some people interpret this. I disagree with Andygc in #15 and agree with LC in #22.

    If we say "one seat away from me", "seat" is clearly being used as a measure of distance, namely the distance between any two adjacent seats. Accordingly, when someone sits one seat away from me, to me that unambiguously means that they are in an adjacent seat, and not that there is another actual seat between us. If there were one other person between my friend and me, then my friend would be two seats away from me.

    Typically classroom seats are arranged in a grid, and most seats therefore usually have exactly four(*) seats that can be described as one away, namely the ones on my left and right, and the ones in front and behind. The description "the seat next to mine" would, I think, generally refer only to either of the ones on my port and starboard, not to the ones fore and aft. In that sense, "one seat away" is more general than "next to".


    (*) An alternative interpretation is that we also allow diagonal steps, in which case every seat has eight that are one away from it.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    This topic has made me realize that I have probably always misunderstood a sentence that I think of as typically American: "My friend only lives one block away".
    Previously, I would have taken that to mean 'in the next block', but presumably I was wrong, and it means that she lives 'in the next block but one'. Is that so?
    Well, you live and learn! :)
    This comes back to what I said about intervals and points. A block, in US parlance, often refers to a distance (an interval), as Hildy explained, rather than to an indivisible item. Otherwise you wouldn't have half a block. So "one block away" means roughly the length (width?) of a block.
    [...] There's a sequence:
    next to, one place away, two places away, etc.
    As I see it, that's a mix of two sequences:
    - (datum), next, next but one, next but two, ... etc
    - (datum), one place away, two places away, three places away, .. etc
    [...] If we say "one seat away from me", "seat" is clearly being used as a measure of distance, namely the distance between any two adjacent seats. Accordingly, when someone sits one seat away from me, to me that unambiguously means that they are in an adjacent seat, and not that there is another actual seat between us. [...]
    I agree with your conclusion, Edinburgher, though I wouldn't use the same reasoning to get there. Claiming that "one seat" is the distance between two adjacent seats (which could be zero if they're touching!) probably won't convince the mathematically-minded amongst the supporters of the other interpretation. On the other hand, if you consider a seat as a discrete point (not a distance), as I did in my #12, then it becomes easier to see "one seat away" as the adjacent seat.
    .

    Confusion of points and intervals is one of the reasons why the Ancient Romans never advanced scientifically. They had 8 days in a week and 15 days in a fortnight!

    Here's another example to support "one seat away" being the adjacent seat. In cricket, you might well hear "He's just one run away from a century", meaning he's scored 99 runs. I can't imagine anyone assuming he has only 98 runs.

    I think the big problem here is the word "away". With "He lives one street past/after mine", or " ... one house along from mine" or "one house down from mine", I think we'd all understand those to mean the next street/house. Similarly for "one seat along from me", etc — so I don't see why "one seat away from me" should be any different.

    Ws:)
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    Quote from Wordsmyth:
    "Confusion of points and intervals is one of the reasons why the Ancient Romans never advanced scientifically. They had 8 days in a week and 15 days in a fortnight!"

    Now, now... the French also have eight days in a week and fifteen in a fortnight, don't they? And they have excellent scientists!

    But your distinction between points and intervals is indeed very useful.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Indeed they do, Hildy, (the French), but they inherited those expressions directly from the Romans in the days of Ancient Gaul. In the meantime, the Arabs gave the world (including eventually the French and the English) the number zero and algebra, and mathematical and scientific progress was up and running. But the linguistic anomalies linger on ...

    But that's not just anecdotal. Many of the great civilisations of the past failed to grasp (or were mystified by) the concept of zero as a value, and consequently as a base position for counting — so it's not surprising that even today people have differing views about the meaning of "one seat away from".

    Which tempts me to throw in another thought. If "one seat away from me" were really the next seat but one, then the next seat to me would be "zero seats away from me" and my seat would be "minus one seats away from me" (i.e. one seat away from me in the other direction) — which it isn't. On the other hand, if my seat is "zero seats away from me" (which it is), then the next seats are "± one seat away from me". QED

    Ws:)
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Confusion of points and intervals is one of the reasons why the Ancient Romans never advanced scientifically. They had 8 days in a week and 15 days in a fortnight!
    The same notion persists in terminology used to name musical intervals. The scale of C major consists of the eight notes CDEFGABC, but of course we forget that to get from the lower C to the upper C we only move seven steps. Yet we call the interval from one C to the next C an "octave", and the intervals CE and CG a "third" and a "fifth" respectively (and so on). This leads to the interval of a double-octave being called a "fifteenth". It defies arithmetical simplicity. We do perform arithmetic on intervals, but the terminology gets in the way, so that we have to subtract 1 each time we add an interval: Two thirds (a third plus a third) gives us 3+3-1=5 a fifth. A fifth and a fourth add up to 5+4-1=8 an octave. :confused:

    Even in vernacular German there is an expression which literally translates to "today in eight days", and it means "a week (from) today" (that is "next Friday" (the 18th, today being Friday the 11th)). Evidently here we count today as one, tomorrow as two, and by the time we get to the day which is actually seven days away, we're at eight.
    And yet if one were to say "today in one day" (or "one day from today") that would be clearly understood to mean tomorrow. So there needs to be a discontinuity somewhere after one but before eight, at which the meaning changes. But where? Is "today in two days" the day after tomorrow or is it also tomorrow? It's daft.:thumbsdown:
    I think the big problem here is the word "away". With "He lives one street past/after mine", or " ... one house along from mine" or "one house down from mine", I think we'd all understand those to mean the next street/house. Similarly for "one seat along from me", etc — so I don't see why "one seat away from me" should be any different.
    :thumbsup:
    Which tempts me to throw in another thought. If "one seat away from me" were really the next seat but one, then the next seat to me would be "zero seats away from me" and my seat would be "minus one seats away from me" (i.e. one seat away from me in the other direction) — which it isn't. On the other hand, if my seat is "zero seats away from me" (which it is), then the next seats are "± one seat away from me". QED
    :thumbsup::thumbsup:
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I still find this strange (as does Mrs Andygc). He lives next door, he sits in the next seat to me cannot, to me (or her) mean the same as he lives a house away from me or he sits a seat away from me. Both of those have to mean for me (and her) that there is a house or a seat between me and him. I'm not extending this to streets or blocks because they are different concepts. For example, I can see that for rows of terraced houses, he lives a street away is the same as in the next street - and that is because a street is not a discrete physical object as a house in a row of houses or a seat in a row of seats, but is a complex of the street itself and a row of houses each side of that street.

    However, we shall have to differ and to remember the significant risk that should I say there's an empty place a seat away from me that the person next to me is going to be very unhappy when the Prof, Ws or london try to sit in her lap.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    You were never alone: The Prof and I have been saying all along that 'away from' means 'adjacent' !:)
    Absolutely, LC, and much appreciated it is.:) I was just additionally glad that Edinburgher also joined me in relating the "one away from" problem to other highly ambiguous counting methods (be it days and weeks or musical notes!) — and in emphasising that all these expressions suffer from confusion over the starting point for counting.

    [...] However, we shall have to differ and to remember the significant risk that should I say there's an empty place a seat away from me that the person next to me is going to be very unhappy when the Prof, Ws or london try to sit in her lap.
    Oh, I don't know ... might be fun!:p .But seriously, one thing that does come out of this discussion is that "xxx away from" is best avoided when precision matters.

    Ws:)
     
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