In writing and in speech, we tend to focus on the “big” words for the biggest impact. Great writing moves beyond generic action words (verbs) like “walk” to say that a character “sauntered” or “darted” instead. We pay more attention to nouns and adjectives too, but what about all those little words that connect everything together? You need to get these right, and that means understanding the difference between beside and besides.

We’ve discussed similar kinds of word pairs before, like knowing the difference between farther and further or understanding why comprised and composed aren’t interchangeable. Every day and everyday are oftentimes confused too. In the case of beside and besides, a single “S” separates the two terms, but they’re used under completely different contexts.

Beside: Next to Something

Beside is a preposition to indicate position, just like how you’d use in, on or under. It’s used to indicate that something is “next to” or literally “at the side of” something else.

  • The salad fork is beside the dinner fork.
  • Beside Tom’s Diner is the grocery store.
  • Come sit beside me.
  • Please push the button beside the wardrobe.
  • I always keep a notepad beside my bed.

You can replace “beside” with “next to” in all of these examples and they’d still make perfect grammatical sense. The word is also used in a couple of common idioms to indicate position in more of a figurative sense.

  • Beside myself: If you say that you are beside yourself with anger, you are indicating that you are extremely angry, so much so that you are almost out of your senses with anger. The same term can used for a range of other strong emotions, like saying he was beside himself with joy or she was beside herself with grief.
  • Beside the point: Something that is “beside the point” is irrelevant. It’s not on the point you’re trying to make. It’s next to it; it’s tangentially related but ultimately unimportant. “The actual color of the car you bought is beside the point. It’s that you never asked me for my opinion!”

Besides: In Addition to Something

Besides can also be used as a preposition (and a linking adverb), but the meaning is entirely different. It can mean “in addition (to),” “moreover” or “aside from,” and is generally less formal. You might also see it used interchangeably with a linking phrase like “in any case” or “whatever the case.”

  • I’m not that interested in going to the concert. Besides, money is tight right now.
  • Do you have any colors besides what’s on display here?
  • Besides fishing, other popular activities include hiking and birdwatching.

In these examples, you can see how replacing “besides” with “next to” would make no sense at all. While this rule of thumb won’t necessarily work in all cases, it’s a great way to check quickly whether “beside” or “besides” is the correct word to use in a sentence.