Some English language questions feel a bit prickly, but this shouldn’t be one of them.
As similar as they might appear at first glance, the debate between “beside” vs. “besides” is not similar to that of “toward” vs. “towards” or “backward” vs. “backwards.” Most of these are words that show physical relationships (ahem, “prepositions” for those who care about formal names), but one of these things is not like the other. Do you know which one?
You could move toward a craft table or towards a craft table, depending on whether you prefer British English or American English (thank you, Ben Franklin), but “beside” and “besides” are different. They have unique meanings.
- “Beside” can mean “by the side of” or “compared with.” For example, “the fabric is beside the pins” or “beside some professional-looking Pinterest posts, my craft projects look quite plain.”
- “Besides” can mean “except,” as in “there’s no way to do this besides taking it slow”; it can mean “in addition to,” as in “besides writing about grammar, I do enjoy an occasional DIY challenge”; it can also act as an adverb, with “moreover” and “furthermore” as synonyms, as in, “besides, my works in progress usually are a lot of fun.”
So, considering these definitions, if you’re writing the idiom meaning that something is off-topic,
the correct usage is “beside the point.”
Whatever is being said is not on topic. It’s beside the topic. It’s perhaps near the point. It’s perhaps miles from the point. Wherever it may be in relation to the discussion at hand, “beside the point” is what you’re looking for.
If the wording was “besides,” it would not have the same meaning. That makes me think of a segue into a conversation about “the point” (perhaps the “point” of colorful pins?). “Besides, the point!” Or, “besides, the point?” The excitement, sarcasm, or confusion in those statements can be up to you. And if you’re having trouble seeing the difference, swap out the “besides” for “furthermore.” “Furthermore, the point!” Do you see the difference?
Of course you saw coming that these two words are etymologically related. “Beside” entered the English language in the 1200s from the Old English word pairing be sīdan, meaning “by the side of.” “Besides” arrived in the 1400s, and it has shared the same meaning as “beside” in the past. However, it does not today, so please be aware of their differences.
Correct word usage is never beside the point—at least in communications where you want to be taken seriously.
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