Differentiating 隣 (tonari), 横 (yoko), 側 (soba) and 近く (chikaku)

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If you check out your dictionary, the description of these 4 words will be so similar that you thought that they are interchangeable. They are more or less have the meaning of nearby, close, next to or beside. But there are specific words for specific situations and with this article we will learn to differentiate these words thoroughly! Let’s begin~

These 4 words can be divided into 2 groups.

Next/Beside: 隣 (tonari) and 横 (yoko)
Around/Nearby: 側 (soba) and 近く (chikaku)

Yes, although the meaning are the same, when you want to say that something is literally and physically next to something, you will want to use 隣 (tonari) and 横 (yoko). If something is within an area , around or nearby, you use 側 (soba) or 近く (chikaku).

Okay now let’s move on to details!

隣 (tonari)

隣 (tonari) means neighbouring to each other, next to.In most case, people use this word to explain that building A is next to building B. This means that A and B are next to each other and you will not find any other building in between them.

But it’s also commonly used to describe someone who live next to you, seat next to you or work in the building next to you. Sometimes the other people might not be physically next to you and you can still use it to describe that person as in this example below:

A: あのかわいい彼女は誰ですか?
Ano kawaii kanojo wa dare desuka?
Who’s that cute girl?

B: 隣のゆみちゃんです
Tonari no Yumi-chan desu
She is Yumi,my neighbour (someone who lives next to my house)

Notes: When you want to use 隣 (tonari), make sure the item you’re comparing to each other are within the same type or category. For example, buildings with buildings,station with station or living things with living things. It’s not natural to use 隣 (tonari) for example to say that someone is next to a bottle.

Although 隣 (tonari) means next to, the concept is more toward next to/within a line/row. So you could say “A station neighbouring to X station” or “A city neighbouring to Y city” with 隣 (tonari). And that is why the rules to use the same category is important.

横 (yoko)

This word means that an object is located on the sideways direction of other object.
Unlike 隣 (tonari) which concern which requires the same type of categories, the object you’re describing with 横 (yoko) doesn’t have to be the same type/size/category. As long as the object is located in either left / right direction of something (horizontally).

In 隣 (tonari), if A is next to B , then there will be no things in the same category in the middle of them. But in 横 (yoko), there might be.

側 (soba)

This word means nearby, to say that something is physically located around something. So the important point here is the distance. It’s usually interchangeable with 近く (chikaku)

近く (chikaku)

This word is more commonly used than 側 (soba), especially when you asked for something nearby the location. As in “Is there a station / police office / convenience market nearby?”

近く (chikaku) vs 近い (chikai)

As you might have noticed, 近く (chikaku) comes from 近い (chikai) which means close/near. And they are not interchangeable since 近く (chikaku) is adverbial noun while 近い (chikai) is い adjective. Check out the example below to see the subtle difference.

Watashi no gakkou wa koko kara chikai
My school is near from here

Watashi no gakkou wa koko no chikaku ni arimasu
My school is located nearby

In summary

Below is the summary of above explanations:

• 隣 (tonari) and 横 (yoko) are used for object next to (located horizontally) another object or something within a line.
• Compare only the same category/type of object with 隣 (tonari)

Risa wa tonari no ie ni sunde imasu.
Risa lives in the house next to my house.
Point My house is exactly next to Risa’s

Yuubinkyoku no yoko ni bara ga aru
Point There are roses located next to/on the left or right side of the post office.

• 側 (soba) and 近く (chikaku) are used for object within a radius to another object (nearby/close by/around)

Gakkou wa kawa no soba ni aru.
My school is near the river.

Point My school is around/close by/near the river, within a short radius from the river.

Eki no chikaku ni takusan no mise ga aru.
There are many stores around the station.

Point Within nearby radius of the station, there are a lot of stores.

Hope it helps! 。゚✶ฺ.ヽ(*´∀`*)ノ.✶゚ฺ。 


  1. So, the manga titled となりの怪物くん is an exception since the only 怪物 is the guy next to the person talking? Unless the person talking thinks of herself as a 怪物 too. (?)

    1. Ah, in regards of manga title. It’s in a similar context as in My neighbor Totoro. Tonari no totoro get translated to My Neighbor Totoro. It’s more of an expression rather literal translation 😀

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