Over

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The preposition over has metaphorical uses as a preposition, and in phrasal verbs.

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Over: Indicates movement from one side to another above a reference point, movement over the top of something, or location on top of something.

The original spatial meaning refers to an object (or person) moving over another object (the dot, which serves as the reference point), lead to the completion the movement. An observer can rest in a position over the top, or one can look at the completed action. From point A, we can say, for example, you are looking over something physically; this idea can be extended metaphorically to being over something, such as being in charge or in control (I am over a company of 500 people). From point B, we can speak of something being finished or done, even metaphorically ("I'm over you!" said to an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend means that one is emotionally finished with the relationship, the breakup, its consequences, and one no longer has any interest in him/her anymore). Other metaphorical uses of over derive from the meanings of over for position or movement.

  1. Spatial (S): Movement or location atop a reference point
  2. Temporal (T): Completion
  3. Metaphorical (M): Superiority; ending; excess; transition; repetition; covering; preference

Sometimes a spatial or temporal meaning is extended in a slightly metaphorical way to indicate more descriptively the manner in which something moves or transpires. For example, when we say that one building towers over the others, there is a sense of physical position but also one of manner (almost adverbial), that is, the manner in which X is taller than Y. The following table summarizes common meanings or nuances of over; when possible, these are designated as spatial / physical (S), temporal (T), or metaphorical (M). Some uses are spatial, but with an added nuance of manner (type of position or motion), which seem quasi-metaphorical, e.g., to pull over; these spatial/manner uses are designated as SM.


  meaning / nuance examples
1. Greater height or position (S, SM) Don't stand over me when I'm working. (S)
The new building towers over the rest of the downtown structures. (SM)
1a. Control, power, or authority (M) (from #1) I'm over a company of 500 employees. I preside over a great empire. I have control over everything.
You have two supervisors over me, and I, in turn, am over all of you.

Don't trust a fox to watch over your chickens.
The invaders are now taking over the country.

1b. Preference (M) (X over Y) They prefer salad over snack foods.
2. Motion over an object (S) We went over the bridge.
2a. Downward motion, but not straight down, e.g., falling down motion (S) (this may be more descriptive than simply down). The rack fell over.
The dog knocked the flowerpot over.
I tripped over a cord and fell down.
The driver ran over a skunk.
He kicked the chair over.
The drunkard keeled over and collapsed on the street.
2b. Covering (M) (e.g., as a result of movement over a surface) The Han River freezes over during extremely cold winter storms.

We simply papered over the holes and painted over the cracks.
The sky quickly clouded over with dark gray storm clouds.

2c. Sideways motion (may look like 'over' motion if viewed from above) (SM) He asked his classmates over to his apartment. He invited them over.
We also came over / dropped over / popped over. (slang)

Can we stay over at your place?
We had to pull over to the side of the road to check the tire.
Move over – I need to get through.

2d. Transition, change (M) We will change over to a new system early next year, when we swap the servers over.

He won over her heart with his cooking abilities.

2e. Deliberate, careful process (M) We need to first think the problem over ourselves, then meet to talk it over, look over the data, go over the plan, and check over the details.
2f. Cause, reason (e.g., the reason why one goes over an obstacle to a destination, in the original physical schema) (M) Those two guys are fighting over a woman.
He quit over a salary dispute.
3. Overflow, excess (SM) The stew pot boiled over, the water spilled over, and the soda bubbled over.
3a. Excess, excessive (M) (sometimes adversative or negative) Over and above the loans, I have to pay hefty interest.

We have a lot of food left over.
This quantum physics is way too hard – it's over my head. I'm in over my head.

4. Completion, end (T) The semester is over.
The party's over now.
4a. Completion, end (M) The storm finally blew over, and we started to clean up the mess.

The controversy will blow over soon.
No, I don't want to fix our relationship. It's over now.

4b. Ending, recovery (M) I got over my cold.
I'm over you. In fact, I got over you a long time ago.
4c. Repetition (like repeating an 'over' event) (M) I lost my file, so I have to do it over / start over.
I hate having to do this over and over.