my next-door neighbor and my neighbor next door

Hi, I have some questions about "next door."


My dictionary (Japanese-English) has this example:


my next-door neighbor (=my neighbor next door)


I am wondering whether there is any difference between the two in meaning, usage, context, etc. 


I am also wondering exactly what "next door" implies (i.e., the person living right next to your house is your next-door neighbor or the people somewhere close to your house can be your next-door neighbors.  Is there any such difference between "my next-door neighbor" and "my neighbor next door"?


The last question is whether the hyphenated "next-door" is used in front of the noun it modifies but not after the noun.


Thank you very much!

Original Post

Yasukotta, thank you very much for your questions.

One of the things I love about this forum is the way a seemingly simple question from a non-native speaker forces us native speakers of English, even experts in grammar, to question why we say and write things in certain ways that we normally take for granted.  In fact, I hope some of my colleagues will contribute their own opinions here.

I agree that "next-door" should be hyphenated when it comes before the noun "neighbor".  As such, it means "the neighbor who lives at the next door", not "the door neighbor that is next", as it would without the hyphen (and which wouldn't make any sense).

When "next door" is placed after the noun "neighbor", the hyphen is inappropriate because "next door" must be considered a reduction of the prepositional phrase "at the next door", or even the entire clause "who lives at the next door".

Ultimately, though, "my next-door neighbor" and "my neighbor next door" mean the same thing.  Before I learned how to read and write, I actually thought that my mother and sisters were saying "neck store", which conjured horrible images in my childish mind.

If you live in an apartment building, your apartment probably has only one front door, and your neighbor on either side could be said to be your "next-door" neighbor.  The same is true if you live in a small house that has only one door in front.  But what if you live in a large house that has many doors in front?

Literally speaking, in such a case, we might suppose that your "next-door neighbor" actually lives in the same house with you.  But the English language doesn't work that way.  We never say "my next-house neighbor".  If you live in a house, your next-door neighbor lives in another house, regardless of how many doors you have.

I hope I have answered your questions.


Just to add a little bit to DocV's extensive treatment above, I'd like to point out that "next door" is used not only as a noun but as an adjective and an adverb. "Next-door neighbor" is a set collocation. If a nonnative speaker heard me refer to "my next-door neighbor," and asked me what that phrase meant, I probably would not respond with "my neighbor next door" (which I agree means the same thing) but rather with "the person who lives next door to me."

"Next door" clearly functions as an adverb in sentences like "They live next door to me," in which "to me" modifies the adverb "next door." Indeed, the sentence "They live next door to me" is rather like "They live downstairs from me," in which "downstairs" is an adverb and "from me" modifies "downstairs." I would not say, "They live at the next door to me." There, "next door" is a noun, not an adverb, and "to me" sticks out like a sore thumb.

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