On the Street Where You Live

If you live in an English-speaking country, there’s a strong possibility that your address contains one of the following words: road, street, boulevard, avenue. We use these words all the time without thinking about them, but what do they actually mean?

Well, first of all, they’re not always going to be used according to their strict dictionary definitions. Most housing developments are named according to how pleasant they sound, not to directly replicate the exact bit of city planning they embody.

The first two you can probably guess:

A street is a road within the bounds of a town or city, and connecting two very close places, while a road is usually much longer and connects two relatively distant places, though they may begin in a city.

An avenue is defined as a broad city street with trees at regular intervals. It was once used to refer to the long, tree-lined driveway to a country house, and came from the Old French word avenue, past participle of the verb avenir (which to this day means to come in modern French), meaning way of access or way of approach, having originally been a military term.

A boulevard is very similar, being a broad urban street, usually with trees along the side. The main difference between a boulevard and an avenue is that a boulevard usually contains a grassy median strip in the middle separating lanes. Think of, obviously, Sunset Boulevard in LA, or the not entirely appropriately-named Avenue de Champs Élysée in Paris.

Particularly in the United States, the word drive used to refer to a path along which livestock would be driven, though modern usages of the term tend to refer to a road that follows the contours of a mountain or coastline. Similarly, trail would refer to a path taken by animals. The most interesting American term for a road is (turn)pike, which referred to toll roads, and specifically the pike weapons that would be drawn by guards until the toll was paid.

Hopefully you now know a little more about where you live!

5 thoughts on “On the Street Where You Live

  1. Niall, I keep thinking about your target group. Are you a monolingual native speaker of English trying to explain your language to other monolinguals or to learners of EFL? If not, what’s your aim? This is not meant as criticism, I really want to know. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a good question, as I’m not 100% sure what my aim is! I’m a native speaker, with respectable levels of French and Irish, though English is the language of my daily life. I think I’m thinking more of native speakers when I write, as we don’t tend to think of many of the mechanics and structures of our native tongue, so I like to show people things about English they’d never realised before.
    Though my experience of working in a language school means that I think that perspective of talking about the language to learners also comes out at times.
    Hopefully it’s accessible and interesting for everyone :).

    Like

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