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Round and Around

 

Techniques > Use of language > Similar Words > Round and Around

History | Connection | Containment | Approximation | Formality | Emphasis | British vs American | See also

 

When should you use the word 'round' as opposed to the word 'around' when they seem identical in use? There are specific meanings, such as when 'round' means circular, but there are also phrases such as 'walking around the place' where 'walking round the place' also works in the same way. How do you decide which word to use?

History

Historically, 'round' was in sole use before about 1600AD. 'Around' may have fashionably appeared to match other words that added 'a' as a prefix, such as 'across', 'alight' and 'abed'. This 'a' comes from Old English and mean 'on', 'in', 'into' or 'towards'.

Connection

The 'a' prefix suggests the act of unification, joining, connecting, becoming one. 'Around' hence may be used to emphasize connection, while 'round' is used in a more separated sense. Creating connection is often more persuasive as it joins identities.

Disconnected: Come round for coffee.

Connected: Come around for coffee.

Containment

The a-prefix origin also offers the metaphor of a container, for example 'walking around the house' suggests being inside while 'walking round the house' implies being outside.

This subtlety can be used in persuasive contexts by using 'around' and 'round' to include or exclude.

Inclusion: Let's walk around the strategy to see how it will work.

Exclusion: You can look round but there's little to see.

Approximation

When saying a number, it is more common to say 'around six' than 'round six'. Saying 'round here may sound like an approximation of 'around' but is less common in use.

On the other hand, to round a decimal (eg. 1.4) is to move it to a whole number, rounding it up (eg. to 2), down (eg. to 1) or off (eg. to 1). This is a precise mathematical operation where 'around' makes no sense.

Approximation can be used to effect in persuasion, either by making the real number vague, or by shifting numbers up or down for the most advantageous effect.

Around: Oh, it'll only cost around a couple of thousand.

Round: As you're a good customer I'll round that down to twenty for you.

Formality

The historical elaboration of the a-prefix can seem formal, especially when associated with other words such as 'abed' that have not transitioned as well into modern English.

Formal language can be more persuasive when the other person is higher status, when you do not know them well and when you are being polite. You can be more informal with friends or use informality to suggest friendship (and so evoke the help that friends are obliged to give one another).

Informal: Drop round some time.

Formal: Do come around to see us.

Emphasis

The 'a' in such words as 'around' doubles the syllables to two, hence its use spends more speaking time in the word and so enhances attention to it. 

Decreasing emphasis can be important when you want to emphasize something else or where you want to slip something in unnoticed.

Emphasis: I'll be around tomorrow.

Casual: I'll be round sometime.

British vs American

'Round' is used more often in British English. Americans often prefer 'around'. This can change any of the above usages, so do be aware of the culture and preferences of people with who you are speaking.

When using words that are different in cultures other than your own, you risk marking yourself out as different. This can easily make you seem less trustworthy. With subtle differences like this, the person may not even know why you seem that way.

Americans often see British as 'quaint' and using British English may make you appear as harmlessly nice. If you have a UK accent, then this alone may be enough!

See also

Here and There

 

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