round and around

They're doing some fixing-up on campus, and this week I was faced with the following in my path:

(In case you can't read the writing on your screen, the left(-)hand sign says "Please go around" and the right(-)hand one says "Please go round".) I liked this bit of linguistic indecision.

Adverbial and prepositional round is far more common in BrE than in AmE. (And just typing it gets the Dead or Alive song going through my head. Which Dead or Alive song, you ask? You mean they had more than one? I thought they just released the same one over and over and over and over again.) According to John Algeo's British or American English?, round is 40 times more common in BrE than AmE (in the Cambridge International Corpus). Though it might just be differences in lexicographical practice, Algeo also notes that (US) Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2003) lists 2 senses for prepositional round but 7 for around, whereas the (UK) New Oxford Dictionary of English lists 5 for around and 8 for round.

I searched for round the on the Guardian website and asked myself whether the examples I found would be round or around in my native dialect. Here are the results from the first two pages that didn't involve other Briticisms (otherwise I'd be typing explanations all day and night), repetition, compounding (e.g. a round-the-world ticket), or other disqualifiers:
  1. Party round the world in 2007
  2. Reading round the Christmas tree.
  3. He's an expert guide, fluent in Italian, takes you round the museum
  4. Pubs are to be allowed to stay open round the clock under plans for a radical overhaul of licensing laws
  5. 'Listen: tinkering round the edges will change nothing'
  6. On the way round the labyrinth, there are slits in the walls,
  7. He has recently completed the last section of a walk round the M25 [a motorway/highway]
I'm fairly confident (though I must confess that I use a BrE-flavo(u)red round fairly often these days, and so may have lost my intuitions), that a typical AmE speaker would say around in all of these cases. The last seems to me the most natural with round, but perhaps some of you with more intact AmE intuitions will be better judges.

Using Fowler's as a guide, The Grammar Logs of the Capital Community College Foundation (Hartford, Connecticut) answers a query about round and around with:
In almost all situations, the words are interchangeable and you'll have to rely on your ear to come up with the word that sounds better. [I]n British English, there are several idiomatic expressions in which "round" is obligatory, but where "around" would work just fine in the U.S.A.: "winter comes round," "show me round," "he came round to see me." In the U.S., "around" is obligatory when you're using it to convey approximation: "He arrived around 4 p.m.," "Around two-thirds of the faculty will retire next year."
There are other idioms that must have one or the other in them--for instance to get around, meaning to go to/be in a lot of places (as in the Beach Boys song), needs around. But in the meaning 'to evade' (as in We got (a)round the security guard), BrE prefers round and AmE prefers around. Feel free to add your own examples in the comments!

An interesting example in the Guardian results was The speech heard 'round the world. Here the apostrophe seems to indicate the writer's feeling that round has been contracted from around--and probably the writer's feeling that round is a bit more informal. That was the only apostrophe'd one in the 20 I looked at. But is it round really a contraction of around? Maybe not. Around is a fairly recent addition to the language. The OED lists around as 'rare before 1600', and notes that it doesn't occur in the works of Shakespeare. Round goes back further, and Shakespeare used it in places where I would have said around (but he didn't ask me, did he?):
1602 SHAKES. Ham. III. ii. 165 Full thirtie times hath Phoebus Cart gon round Neptunes salt Wash.
So where did the a- come from? It could be on analogy with other a- prepositions like across and among. At any rate, the OED marks its fourth sense for around as an Americanism now, but perhaps not in the past or the future:
4. In U.S.: = ROUND. Perhaps orig. U.K. (cf. quot. 1816). Now coming back into British use under U.S. influence.

JANE AUSTEN Emma I. x. 187 Emma..was beginning to think how she might draw back a little more, when they both looked around, and she was obliged to join them.
All this seems to indicate that apostrophes are unnecessary for 'round (at least in BrE), and that the perceived need to put them there may be analogous to 'til, which was till before it was until.


  1. In some of these examples, there is a difference of meaning as well as style to this BrE speaker.

    She went round the museum = she looked at the various galleries and exhibits (and the different meaning of exhibit in BrE and AmE is itself worth exploration).

    She went around the museum = she walked [a]round the outside of the building.

    I am also a bit surprised by the quoted assertion that 'In the U.S., "around" is obligatory when you're using it to convey approximation' - not because I have any reason to think it untrue of the US, but because it feels to me to be equally true of BrE. Some corroboration of that sense may be inferred from the fact that none of the examples quoted from the Guardian involve approximation.

  2. I think the 'In the U.S.' there may have just been written by an American who didn't want to assert something about the UK.

    Interesting that you get around the museum as being on the outside, but when you explicitly say 'the outside of the building' you seem to feel less strict about it (with the [a]round.

    In the signs asking me to go (a)round the building on campus, they're asking me to go 180 degrees around the outside of the building (instead of going through it). But she walked around the outside of building sounds more like a 360 degree trip to me--and she walked round the outside of the building could be just about anything. What do you think?

  3. I'm glad you mentioned till/'til/until. I have the feeling that till is quite rare in written AmE. People say it all the time, but I think they think they're saying 'til, just like the and in mac 'n' cheese.

    I know I thought till was something you do to soil till I read a note written by an Australian friend. Now that I live in Australia, I see it pretty often. And I use it all the time.

  4. I agree, around would be used almost exclusively, unless trying to sound a bit quaintly British.

    I much prefer till, but that's a personal preference, and until the norm.

  5. For some reason, the signs you saw remind me of the sign on the right here. That's probably a bit unfair, as your signs are both correct, whereas the one in the picture manages to get three spelling mistakes into the word "bicycles" and then print it on laminated official college notepaper!

  6. In the U.S., "around" is obligatory when you're using it to convey approximation:
    I'd never use "round four o'clock" or even "around four o'clock" but rather "round about four o'clock" to show the imprecision.

    British speaker here

  7. To me (BrE) the quote from JANE AUSTEN Emma I. x. 187 Emma..was beginning to think how she might draw back a little more, when they both looked around, and she was obliged to join them.
    sounds very odd. For me there is a clear difference in meaning between "to look round" (where "round" is an adverb, that is), namely, 'to turn one's head and look behind one' which seems to be what Emma's companions do in the quote, and "to look around", which means 'to take a look, at various parts of a place, though without a necessary direction or goal'. So for me, if Emma's companions had "looked around" where they stood they might very well not have seen her.

  8. "Round Midnight" said Felonious Monk.

  9. I have to admit that Roald Dahl's "square candies that look round" befuddled me slightly as an AmE-speaking child. I could get the joke, but it felt like it was stretched a bit too far to be worth it.

    I don't have my copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on me to know if the original text included an apostrophe. But I would like to point out that when I Googled the phrase to double-check that I was remembering correctly, Google asked me if I meant to search for "square candies that look around."

  10. Yeah, he also said 'round and 'round about. And it looks like some people here have pretty strong opinions on the matter, which is weird because he wasn't even consistent about spelling his own first name.

  11. I would say around in all the cases you mentioned, other than maybe no. 2 ("reading round the Christmas tree"). That one sounds fine to me, if only because "reading round" has a nice rhythm to it because both words start with "r."

    There's also an old song that goes "the music goes 'round and 'round, woah-ho-ho woah-ho-ho, and it comes out here."

  12. So baseball should really be called "arounders"? Ah hae ma doots.

  13. Damn you're good.

  14. While agreeing with most of your examples, I think "round the clock" is as likely to come out of my American mouth as "around the clock", depending on context. Also, "Reading around the Christmas tree" sounds strange to me, but I think that's because the extra "a" breaks the iambic sound of the phrase. "Read around the Christmas tree" sounds fine.

  15. What a fantastic website, I'm so glad to have found you! (via Francis Strand)

    It's too bad I'm taking a little hiatus now from teaching English to French university students-- I would certainly have sent them your way every time we hit a BrE/AmE snag.

  16. "Shot heard round the world" sounds natural to me, both as in the American Revolution and as in Ralph Thompson's Baseball feat. Offhand I can't think of any other natural sounding use of "round" to this American

    I did notice a strange duality when I checked around the web and found the following:

    "Shot Heard Around the world

    The "shot heard 'round the world" was a momentous event which took place on April 19th, 1776. The skirmish, the shot set in motion only lasted five minutes. Despite its short duration, this battle started the American Revolution."

    BF in Newark, NY, USA

  17. "BF in Newark, NY, USA": I don't know how to break it gently, but "BF" is an unfortunate usage in UK.

  18. Now I know I must be getting old. I don't understand an "unfotunate usage" in my own language. :)

    I can find a few interesting AmE "Unfortunate usages" on Urban Dictionary - but none that I would recogise as BrE

    dearieme - you need to enlighten me.

  19. On the same campus, there are adjoining offices, one with a notice saying "Student advisor" and the other with a notice saying "Student adviser". It's nice to be given a choice of whom one goes to for counsel. BTW, if I can just use the cover of an apparently relevant comment (for a change) to slip something funny in here, I do love Stanley Baxter's Glasgow dialect lesson.

  20. Australian here ...
    We grew up learning Oxford Dictionary English ... but when it comes to around vs round when used as an adverb ... I must confess it sounds like informal speech/writing when someone uses simply round, rather than around.
    I was genuinely surprised to discover that around is more american than english in it's usage.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. I read this with great interest, because my editor and I differ on whether to use 'round or round in a number of instances in a book of my prose poems that's being published through Signature Press here in Canada.

    It seems that the apostrophe is obligatory where "round" could be taken as an adjective (opposite of square) or preposition -- and is probably preferable where the reader must make an effort to determine which sense is referred to. Thelonius (see James' links above)is therefore correct, for instance, in writing 'Round Midnight, because otherwise it could be taken in that adjectival sense.

    I hope, lynneguist, this is being redirected into your email: this discussion, I see, is more than a year and a half old.

    I may come up with more examples here as we go through my manuscript.

  23. Indeed, I see all comments as they come. The better to despam them! Thanks for the interesting addition.

  24. I always thought "round" was a shape! So to go "round" implies that one has changed shape! "Around" seems to sound complete to me. Ie: He looked around. he looked round. for the second comment my mind conjures up a shperical shaped person.

    have fun!

  25. I have just found this topic after searching on Google. As one or two contributors have also stated, I also thought that of the two, 'around' would be the British English version, so I am somewhat surprised. I looked this up whilst emailing someone in Australia, and I'm still not really sure now so I'll be sticking with my gut feeling of 'around'
    Another point of view though is the common British way of asking for someone - "Is Pete around", to which the joking reply is often "Yes, he's very round!"

  26. I know this is an older entry, but I just found it as a result of a quick "google" search. I was reading a story to my daughter last night and the writer used the phrase "round and around", which got me wondering if there was some subtle reason for that. Perhaps it was simply for aesthetic reasons. Or, perhaps this is a common turn of phrase for some. I'm not really familiar with it in this form. It tends to be either "round and round" or "around and around" when I hear it.

  27. What about the following songs:

    Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.
    Would not sound right as:
    Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree.

    And this one:

    Rock around the clock. (Bill Haley)
    Rock round the clock? - nope, sounds wrong.

    Although these examples may be down to beats/syllables.

  28. This is simple.
    'round is 'slang' for around. Like 'cause, instead of because.
    The answer to the question is 'round' is a shape. Where you make the round shape with your hand showing directions, or are describing a circle or roundish shape.
    Around is a standalone word, sometimes used sloppily by dropping the 'a'. If this is done, then an apostrophe SHOULD be used to dictate/denote the absence of the letter 'a'! It bloody annoys me when stenographers put apistrophies here, there and everywhere, except on this particular word..! You CAN'T go round! But, you CAN go 'round or around! It's an action, not a shape!

  29. Latest Anonymous, did you actually read the post?

  30. Ooops, sorry! I didn't realise I wasn't allowed to join in?
    Shall I email you first for your opinion on my opinion prior to me adding my opinion?
    Obviously, not a free world.
    I was only 'adding' my contribution that I agree with others above when they refer to 'round' as being a shape. That is what I was taught at grammar school in England, where I speak English.
    Hopefully, this entry was grammatically correct enough for you. Feel free, again, to critisise/size.

  31. Of course anyone is allowed to have an opinion on whether they like something or not.

    But whether 'round' came from 'around' or not is a matter of historical fact, not a matter for opinion, and you seemed to be making a claim of fact which was incorrect.

  32. This discussion seems to be going round and round in circles.

  33. I claimed no such thing. Did you even read my post? Round (in my unqualified opinion) is a shape.
    Around is a descriptive direction.
    Karma - what goes around comes around. Don't get 'smart' with people if you don't want a response;))
    BC - like it, like it! Very clever... and, used correctly! Lol!

  34. I came here because I was wondering about the use of ' when using the word 'round(The Oracle...*ahem* Google lead me here.) I am American( and not overly proud of it...), I use a lot of BrE phrases and words(mainly "bloody/hell" and "bullocks"). No, I am not trying to sound British. I think I may have picked up those words/phrases because I tend to watch more British TV shows than American( 9 times out of ten Am. comedy is nothing more than the same fart and dick jokes in different packages.)...The reason I mention this is because, I want to know if there are any British people who use AmE phrases/words due an affinity for Am. television or trying to sound american(I would be hard pressed to believe anyone from the UK would WANT to sound american.) So. . .All that in the form of a question.

    As for the "round vs 'round vs around" argument here at the bottom of the comments...Seriously? They are all correct. Are they all proper? No. But my grammatical skills aren't the best. Mainly because this is the internet and I don't feel the need to proof read everything I post.

    Now I will wait til the next person who is sent here by google to leave a comment. This could take awhile.

  35. hey Null_Shock,
    guess it is me! =]
    Google did lead me here!

    Although I am brazilian and do not get to have an opinion on that, the reason I was searching it was my british girl friend that uses round a lot.

    thanks lynneguist

  36. Still working my way through the blog, I thought you might like a mention of Sheffield's "Round Walk"

    This lovely walk through the woods and parkland on the South Western outskirts of Sheffield is certainly not circular so presumably wasn't named for it's shape and hence is round is the sense of going around Sheffield.

    I've seen discussion of the nmame on the local forum but no firm conclusion was reached as it's origins are lost in the mists of long ago Parks and Recreation meetings.

  37. I was wondering if the use of round vs around in BrE is mediated by one's educational attainment or social class. I have done copy edits for a couple of Brits, and their "round" habits drive me (an American) crazy. I typically leave the rounds in in dialogue, but banish them in the narrative.

  38. I've just had two separate thoughts — which rather spookily came together.

    My first thought was of an extremely early verbal experience. I presume many others had their mothers perform

    Round and round the garden
    Like a teddy bear

    [One finger describes 3-4 circles on infant's palm]
    One step
    [Same finger pokes infant's forearm]
    Two steps
    [Pokes upper arm]
    Tickle him/her under there
    [Tickles armpit]

    My second thought was to look up round in Jeffrey Taft's Blues Concordance. Only one British-style round as a preposition, but several examples of round and round (mostly with going and turning).

    If Blues avoids the preposition, Jazz supplies a famous example: Round Midnight aka Round About Midnight.

  39. Emme Adams

    I was wondering if the use of round vs around in BrE is mediated by one's educational attainment or social class.

    A radio quiz programme here which pitches one two-person team of high educational attainment, high mental agility, and middle-class speech against another is called Round Britain Quiz. It's been going for many years and if my memory doesn't deceive me it used to even more highbrow than it is now. (There's more deduction involved and less factual knowledge — or so it seems to me.) Certainly, there were some distinguished academics in past teams.

    The tone of the programme alone would have dissuaded the BBC from giving it a title that was sociably questionable in any way. And even if it hadn't been such a highbrow programme, the BBC Home Service of the 1950's would still have given it a safe, 'correct' title.

  40. I think English is confusing... even to native English speakers like myself. I'm yet to figure out the difference between "cross" and "across."

  41. Keith

    To this BrE speaker, cross as a preposition feels the like AmE speakers' description of round as a preposition. It doesn't feel like Standard, but it doesn't feel totally wrong either.

    Come to think of it, I see it ─ rightly or wrongly ─ as an informal AmE use, as in the classic but unlikely Blues verse

    I got a girl cross town : she crochet all the time
    I got a girl cross town: crochet all the time
    Baby if you don't quit crocheting : you gonna lose your mind

    I would probably write this as 'cross, although I would not normally write 'round

  42. What about the expression "can't get your head around sth"?
    In the UK I've heard "can't get your head round sth". Is the second expression deliberately modified by the BrE speakers?

  43. It's not 'deliberately modified'. It's the way they say it.

  44. Talking of way and (a)round, there's another negative expression where I don't believe BrE admits around. Well, I don't anyway.

    There's just no way round it in the sense 'It can't be avoided' is the only possibility for me.

    There's no way around it for me would refer to a physical obstacle round about which you literally could not walk, drive or whatever.

    PS Why don't AmE speakers object to the Beach Boys?

    Round, round, round, round, I get around

  45. Why don't AmE speakers object to the Beach Boys? Round, round, round, round, I get around

    I think the initial "round"s are just musical space filler, like "ah" or "ooo", but inspired by the second syllable of "around".

  46. I would say that both round and 'round can be correct, depending on speaker.
    If a BrE speaker says it, it would be their standard form and an apostrophe would be unnecessary.
    However, if an AmE speaker who is not trying to "sound more British" but instead just eliding around says it I would suggest it's 'round.
    In other words: 'round comes from around which in turn comes from round.

  47. NellyThe Tardigrade30 May, 2014 13:47

    To this BrE speaker, "around" suggests a haphazard or "here and there" motion. For example "go around spreading rumours". "Round" on the other hand suggeats a more well defined route, e.g "go round the street posting leaflets through the doors" or "go round the block" or "go round an obstacle".

    I have noticed an increase in the use of "around" in BrE where I would always use "round", hence finding this site.

  48. I've just been typing in track names into iTunes. One track title that leaped up out of me is a version of what in Standard American would be There's A Man Going Around Taking Names.

    This religious song has been recorded by both Black and White performers, and the precise titles for recording up to 1943 are recorded in two discographies. They are

    There's A Man Goin' Around Taking Names — one Black recording
    There's A Man Going 'Round Taking names — one Black recording
    There's A Man Goin' Around Takin' Names — one White recording
    There's A Man Going 'Round Takin' Names — one White recording

    I've identified several post-war recordings, plus a Johnny Cash song which quotes the phrase. Unfortunately, I can't trust a web page to produce the original spelling. What does seem to be the case is that artists generally sing the monosyllable round — whether spelled 'round or round in the written title.

    The Taft Blues Concordance is back online. This gives an indication of word usage in a large sample of pre-war blues lyrics as transcribed by Michael Taft — by him alone, so there's an element of subjectivity. This in turn suggests the approximate frequency of a word in the speech of lower-class Black Americans in the period 20's and 30's. For what it's worth, Taft recognises:

    around — 597 uses, mostly adverbial but also prepositional
    round — only 37 uses, mostly adverbial, a few prepositional and some of the noun round

  49. Another song:

    Go Along Mule
    Go Long Mule
    Go 'Long Mule

  50. Of course, to confuse everyone even more, one can buy round tuits...
    For example, see here:

  51. Lyrics to "The Wheels on the Bus" (with examples of round and around)

    The wheels on the bus go round and round,
    round and round,
    round and round.
    The wheels on the bus go round and round,
    all through the town.
    (Roll hands around each other)


The book!

View by topic



AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)