CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

The difference between round and around

TLDR: Have you seen how long this article is? Seriously, there’s too many different meanings for these terms, it’s too long to summarise.

So I’m back from my unannounced and unplanned hiatus! Miss me? (I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.)

Around and round both have a multitude of different uses, so bear with me while I list them all out, then tell you where not to get them confused!

around (adverb)—situated in every direction or every side; in order to face another direction; approximately, about; within a location; aimlessly; alive; at a location, present

‘They’re all around us!’ the pilot screamed. ‘I can’t hold ’em!’

The girl turned around to face her bullies.

There were around fifty students packed into the small room.

The news that the enemy were within a day’s march of the down got around like wildfire.

He waved his arm around, indicating the mess on the floor.

‘My parents aren’t around anymore,’ the urchin said, shrugging.

There weren’t very many children around when Sarah got to school.

around (preposition)—surrounding, on every side of something; within or to a location; embrace, hug, encircle something; following a vague circular route

The walls loomed high around the city.

‘There are many supermarkets like this around the town. It’s nothing special.’

He put his arm around his brother’s shoulders, shaking with grief.

The tourists decided to walk around the lake.

round (adjective)—circular, curved; overweight; exact number

The ball is perfectly round.

The businessman was squashed against the window when the large, round woman sat down next to him.

The wedding guests numbered a nice round fifty.

round (noun)—going to a series of places in sequence; a sequence of turns in a single event; a canon effect in music; a single shot of a gun

The governess always did the rounds before bedtime.

My first job was a paper round.

The first round of peace talks did not go well.

Germany cruised past all opposition to reach the Round of 16 in the World Cup. (Yay!)

The three-woman choir sang a well-loved tune in a round to please their audience.

‘I’ve only got two rounds left!’ the soldier cried in dismay.

round (verb)—to change direction; to change a number; become circular; verbally attack; collect together

The car skidded as it rounded the bend in the road.

The students were told to round down their answers to two decimal points only.

The baby’s cheeks rounded as it giggled.

The teacher rounded on the disruptive students, her cane in hand.

Babe rounded up the sheep.

round (adverb)—to rotate; to view a whole surrounding area, to provide something to a group or location; to turn and face another direction, to change directions; describing a situation relating to individuals and their actions; surround something; visit someone at home; aimless activity

‘Round and round the garden like a teddy bear, one step, two step, tickle you under there!’

Clarence got out of the car and looked round at the garden.

The boy snatched the girl’s school report and passed it quickly round the class, laughing with glee.

Wheezing, the old man turned round, putting his glasses down.

‘No, you’ve got this the wrong way round! The beast was scared, not angry!’

The gaol had high walls all the way round.

‘Hey, mate, come round and watch a movie tonight.

He was walking round the shopping centre, waiting for someone to notice him.

round (preposition)—on every side, surrounding; encircle, envelop; move in a vaguely circular motion past an obstacle; hit something in motion; to view an area in its entirety

The gardens round the convention centre were very relaxing.

Sally wrapped her arms round her dog’s neck.

He ran, dodging round the shorter students as he made his way towards the door.

The boy didn’t want another clip round the ear from his father.

She went round the kitchen, cleaning every single surface in turn.

Right! So now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, let me try to make some sort of explanation.

Yes, some of the above uses of around also appear under round, particularly when they are being used as adverbs or prepositions. This means that, in some contexts, you can use around and round interchangeably. For example:

The girl turned around to face her bullies.

Wheezing, the old man turned round, putting his glasses down.

OR

He put his arm around his brother’s shoulders, shaking with grief.

Sally wrapped her arms round her dog’s neck.

Determining which to use in those circumstances is up to you and, indeed, sometimes, one or the other just sounds better.

However, other clashes in usage could be down to location.

In US English, round is mostly considered the informal form of around, with the exception of its use in describing something circular or cylindrical and the few phrases in which round is firmly cemented, such as:

The kids ran round and round in circles until they felt dizzy and fell over.

‘This shop is open all year round actually.’

In comparison, British English users tend to use round for more definite circular movements, such as:

She went round the kitchen, cleaning every single surface in turn.

While reserving around for more vague and abstract situations, for example:

There weren’t very many children around when Sarah got to school.

If you haven’t memorised all of the above (and I don’t blame you if you can’t quite get a grip on all those situations), then there are a couple of easy things to remember.

If you are a US English-user, round is mostly considered an informal version of around, so whichever word you use could alter the tone of what it is you are writing, but not really the meaning.

If you are a British English-user, like myself, then we have to pay more attention to the situation and use whichever word most correctly fits into the sentence.

So… good luck with the above! And happy writing.

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