Above and over are two prepositions of place. Both basically mean “higher than” but it is often unclear for learners of English what the difference between above and over is.
You will find various ways and lists that explain the difference. It is true that it is not all that easy to explain because over and above are often interchangeable or the difference is subtle and more or less easy to grasp depending on your mother tongue.
This is my personal approach and the way I like to explain it to students attending my English classes because it works well.
Think horizontal and vertical
Over is horizontal. Use it to say “higher than” to express the idea of covering something (a cover lies horizontally), of going from one side to another side of something, of completion (because you have covered something when you have completed something, so both ideas are quite close really when you think about it).
Above is vertical. Use it to say “higher than”, to express the idea of higher ranking or importance, top versus bottom. For example think of a graduated thermometer.
That’s the main idea. Now let’s have a closer look with examples:
similar and often interchangeable, but:
over is used for something that is closer
→ I like the new bridge they built over the river
→ You need a light over your bed
| above is used more often on the whole
→ Nobody lives in the apartment above.
→ We looked at the rocks above us.
Covering, from one side to another, on the other side:
→ There are clouds over the ocean today
→ We will fly over England
→ She jumped over the puddle
→ He spread a blanket over the bed
→ The table was covered over with dust
Higher but on the side or superior to:
→ I put up a picture on the wall above the piano
→ The building rises above the street
→ He should feel above all that.
→ That’s an order from above
→ You’re not above the law!
More than for numbers and amounts:
→ He’s got over 400 books in his room
→ You must be 18 or over to buy energy drinks
→ Over 15 employees took part in this project.
Higher for measurements: temperature, average and altitude:
→ The temperature will reach 35 above 0 today
→ The quality of this product is above average
→ Ben Nevis stands at 1345 meters above sea level
In a text, on the other side of a page:
→ Look at paragraph over the page
→ Please turn over
In a text, prior to or earlier on a page:
→ Look at the above paragraph
→ As mentioned above
The same explanations and examples work for their opposites:
The opposite of above is below.
The opposite of over is under.
Useful tip: Remember over for cover! The two words are similar enough.
Careful! Over has many more meanings so it can be used in other contexts, too.
There are also idioms and set phrases that are good to know. Look at these two examples:
Above all, don’t forget to speak English as often as possible! → most important of all
Don’t cry over the past → about, because of
There you are! I hope this helped you understand the difference between above and over.
Can you find more examples? Please share them in the comment box below! 🙂