The Grammarphobia Blog

How close is “close to” to “nearly”?

Q: Is it OK to use “close to” instead of “nearly”?

A: We all know that it’s fine to use “close to” in place of the preposition “near,” as in “They live close to Baltimore.” So what about using it in place of an adverb like “nearly” or “almost” (“We drive close to 50 miles to get there”)?

That’s OK too, and here’s why.

Modern grammarians describe “close to” as a complex preposition, meaning that it’s a preposition that consists of more than one word.

There are scores of complex prepositions in English. In the Oxford English Grammar, Sidney Greenbaum lists some of them, including these:

“close to,” “according to,” “as opposed to,” “away from,” “in connection with,” “outside of,” “next to,” “except for,” “instead of,” “contrary to,” “regardless of,” and “up to.”

Some of these are used in prepositional phrases that include numbers or quantities of some kind. “Close to” is often used this way in the sense of “nearly” or “almost.”

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, by Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, gives the numerical example “close to a hundred tickets” and a similar one, “up to twenty minutes.”

So we can correctly write or say things like “Every day, I drive close to 50 miles,” or “She sold close to a hundred tickets,” or “We waited close to 20 minutes.”

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