The Grammarphobia Blog

Is it the floor or the ground?

Q: I was waiting on hold to speak with you on WNYC, but I never made it on the air. I wanted to comment on the use of “floor” vs. “ground.” My husband, in particular, has a pet peeve about the use of “floor” outside where it should be “ground.”

A: Others have asked the same question, so this must be a trend!

Normally, the floor is what you walk on inside a building, and the ground is what you walk on outside. I too find it jarring to hear the words “floor” and “ground” used interchangeably.

But many people do this. Not only do they refer to the floor as the ground, but they call the ground the floor. At least so far, dictionaries maintain the distinction between the two words.

“Floor” was an archaic word for “ground” centuries ago, and in Britain “floor” is used in the game of cricket to refer to the ground, but these examples can hardly explain such a usage in American English.

We occasionally refer to the “floor” of the ocean or of the forest, and so on, but in ordinary usage, a “floor” is part of a building or other structure.

In Spanish, suelo means both ground and floor, but I can’t see any connection with the increasing use of the two words as interchangeable terms in English.

The phrase “ground floor,” of course, refers to the floor of a building closest to the ground. And the expression “getting in on the ground floor” means joining a venture at an early, advantageous time.

If I find out anything more, I’ll put it on the blog, so stay tuned!

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