Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"There" vs. "Over There"

I hear many ESL speakers use "over there" when "there" sounds like the better option to me. If I hear it consistently from a student (or even from a friend whose native language is not English), I will try to offer a correction or suggestion.

My difficulty with this particular choice of words is that I myself do not have a clear handle on the reason(s) that one choice should be made over the other. I haven't seen this explained in any of the ESL textbooks I use for my ESL students or for my own reference. It's one of those slight differences that I can discern as a native speaker. I know in the particular situation which is better, but I can't give a generalization of why one is better. So I've just had to try to give examples of when to use which.

If I find something definitive or if you have any suggestions for me, I'll be sure to offer them here.



Anonymous said...

Hi! I also have an MA in TESOL and am also tutoring adults, so I was happy to find your blog. I currently have a blog for intermediate/advanced students, but I'm hoping to start a blog aimed at teachers soon. I hope we can connect once I get that started.

You're right about "over there"--I've heard Chinese students use it when I thought they should have said "there," but I'm also not sure what my internal grammar rules are trying to tell me in this case! Hmm. I hope you can discover the answer.

Anyway, keep up the good work! I'll be adding you to my reading list.

Anonymous said...

Hi Debra,
My name is Corina and I'm from Venezuela. English is not my native language. What I understand of the difference between "there" and "over there" is that: "there" is used when what you're pointing is not so far away, "over there" is used when it's further away. I hope I made myself clear with this explanation, and that this is useful for you to explain to your students.


Name: Debra Garcia, M.A. said...

Hi Corina,

Thank you so much for your helpful explanation. This is a good general rule for the difference between “there” and “over there.”

Unfortunately, English has too many exceptions to general rules! Is distance ultimately the determining factor to decide which to use? Take these two examples:

1. Please put the chair over there in the corner of the room.

2. I love Brazil. I have been there several times.

In the first example, “over there” in the corner of the room is certainly a lot closer than “there” in a country in another hemisphere. Yet, I hear many ESL speakers say “over there” when they are referring to another country. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. “I have been over there several times” does not sound right to a native speaker.

So while we can use distance as a guideline, we can only use it sometimes.

Dear readers, please send more suggestions and comments. We'll figure this out!

Unknown said...

Could be the difference between there and over there if you are seeing the particular object?

My car is there.
My car is over there.

In which case I'm seeing the car?
In which case the car is further?

Justin said...


Is it to do with movement? If you use 'over there' you're implying that the listener will be moving to that point, while 'there' is just talking a place that is not here which we can both observe without necessarily travelling to.

'My car is there' = That's my car
'My car is over there' = It's not far to walk.

Just a thought.

Incidentally, I'm doing some research into blogs at the monment for my Diploma. Would it be ok to ask you a few questions?

Name: Debra Garcia, M.A. said...

All are good answers. Thank you for sending your ideas.

Justin, you can use my contact link on the right of the page if you would like to ask some questions and have me get back to you directly.

Unknown said...

try this:


animeworld said...


I agree with Justin (movement).

Reading the examples, I think that "over their" is used when someone is showing direction and "there" is used to show location. It seems the same, but they are slightly different, as you can realize in the examples.