Right Usage: below, under, underneath, beneath

The prepositions below and under can both mean ‘lower than‘.

  • Look in the cupboard below/under the sink.

We prefer below when one thing is not directly under another.

  • The climbers stopped 300m below the top of the mountain.
  • A moment later the sun had disappeared below the horizon.

We prefer under when something is covered or hidden by what is over it, and when things are touching.

  • I think the eat’s under the bed.
  • What are you wearing under your sweater?
  • The whole village is under water. (NOT … below water.)

Below is used in measurements of temperature and height, and in other cases where we think of a vertical scale.

  • The temperature is three degrees below zero.
  • Parts of Holland are below sea level.
  • The plane came down below the clouds.
  • She’s well below average in intelligence. ~

We usually use under, not below, to mean ‘less than’ or ‘younger than‘.

  • There were under twenty people at the lecture.
  • You can’t see this film if you’re under 18.

Underneath is sometimes used as a preposition instead of under, but only for physical position.

Compare:

  • There’s a mouse under(neath) the piano.
  • He’s still under 18. (NOT … underneath 18.)

Beneath is used mostly in a rather literary style.

  • The ship sank slowly beneath the waves.
  • It is common before abstract nouns in some fixed expressions.
  • He acts as if I was beneath his notice. (= not worth considering)
  • Her behaviour is beneath contempt. (= really disgraceful)

Below can be used as an adverb.

  • We looked over the cliff at the waves crashing on the rocks below.

Under can be used as an adverb particle (see 20) with some verbs.

  • A lot of businesses are going under because of the economic crisis.

In other cases we prefer underneath for adverbial use.

  • I can’t take my sweater off – I haven’t got anything on underneath.
    (NOT … anything on under)

In a book or a paper, see below means ‘look at something written later’

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