Treatment of “around” and “round”


These two prepositions are described together here because they are essentially dialectal orthographic variants, despite their being subject to different treatments in ODE and having different datasets in FrameNet. It  is profitable to look at these prepositions with about, since many meanings are common to all three.


around: NODE/DIMAP show six senses of around; ODE shows only five core senses. Eliminated in ODE, fortunately, is a very problematic sense, defined simply as “round,” in NODE/DIMAP; this would have made for a very asymmetric one-to-many relationship between the two preps, which are already peculiarly related. I have followed ODE’s sense numbering.


round: NODE/DIMAP and ODE both have the same eight senses. It is a mark of Oxford’s British bias that the treatment of this preposition is so asymmetric in relation to around. The additional senses defined for round (around has only five senses defined) in fact correspond to cases in American English where around would be preferred, so by rights, the definitions of the two prepositions should be identical where the words are interchangeable in the two dialects. I have not added all of round’s additional senses to the inventory of around because they are not all needed. The comments column in the round spreadsheet indicates which sense are equivalents of each other.



Notes from the spreadsheet (around only):

New sense defined: 4(3)-1 ObstacleSurpassed. This is the same as round sense 6(3a) which ODE curiously defines for round but not for around. Definition: (taken from round in ODE): “on the other side of (a corner or obstacle)”.



Other instances of around and round that may deserve idiomatic treatment

Many instances of around and round in FrameNet, whether identified as preposition or adverb, are in fact adverbs, and often the particle of a phrasal verb. For example, in a clause like “gusts of wind which are tossing around 180-litre oil drums like playthings,” it’s conceivable to isolate around as a PP with “oil drums” as the complement, but this is rather counterintuitive, when the verb is obviously toss around. Other instances where the usage was clearly adverbial include those where no complement is present, and where round or around is followed by another preposition (“look around for something to wear,” “turn around to the North”). Generally I have labeled those instances “phrasal” where a verb seems to have an independent meaning with the addition of around or round, and “adverb” where around or round adds some strictly adverbial sense to a verb.


A few instances of around are labeled (adverb6). These correspond to the meaning of around as approximately; as with about, FrameNet labels them prepositions though they are elsewhere treated as adverbs.


Other Notes:

(1) In many cases the complement of an around or round PP directly determines how the preposition is interpreted, rather than the POA. This is particularly common where the POA is any of several locomotion verbs that frequently collocate with around, such as roam, run, wander, or walk. When the complement is something relatively small and stationary, and especially if it has a somewhat rounded shape, then these prepositions tend to mean “following an approximately circular route.” If the complement is a relatively large, amorphous place, then around is taken to mean “in or to many places throughout (a locality).” Finally, if an obstacle is involved, then the meaning suggested is “on the other side of (a corner or obstacle)”:


They ran around me, shouting.

They ran around the house, shouting.

They ran around the corner, shouting.


A similar phenomenon occurs with verbs of perception: by the lights of ODE, a different sense is involved in the following two sentences:


As soon as I came to I opened my eyes and looked around  myself.

As soon as I came to I opened my eyes and looked around the room.  


This pattern seems to be somewhat different from other prepositions in which the POA is more influential in determining preposition meaning.


(2) Two SRTypes for these prepositions are quite similar at the moment: ThingSurrounded and ThingEncircled. I have not condensed them to a single name at present, because there is a difference that my names perhaps don’t quite suggest: the “surrounded” sense is for things in which the surrounding entity does not necessarily appear as a result of movement, whereas this is required for the “encircled” sense. Thus, “pimples around his mouth” is “surrounded,” “draw a circle around his mouth” is “encircled.”