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Approach vs Near vs Approximate

Approach, near and approximate mean to come or draw close (to).

Approach is by far the widest in its range of application. Very often it implies a coming close in space.

  • he left the group and approached us
  • the storm was approaching

Often also it suggests a drawing close in time.

  • it was approaching three o’clock
  • the day of the wedding approached

Sometimes a closeness in order of thought or in an intellectual relation (as likeness or identification) is implied.

  • her interest in others sometimes approaches intrusiveness
  • students are expected to approach the standard set for them by their teachers
  • many words of distinctly different origin gradually approach each other in meaning

Though the word retains its implication of coming close, often it also implies actual or imminent contact; to approach a man with a proposal is actually to make advances to him; to approach a topic with reluctance is actually to enter upon a discussion of it.

  • Hence, approach often stresses the manner or method of beginning, especially one calculated to evoke the response or effect desired.
  • he did not know how to approach the subject
  • every problem in painting was to Leonardo a problem in science, every problem in physics he approached in the spirit of the artist

In a still more specific sense, when used in reference to persons, approach suggests advances made by the agent for some ulterior motive (as diplomatic negotiation, solicitation, or bribery.

  • the committee awaited a favorable opportunity to approach the governor concerning his candidacy
  • the attorney for the prosecution declared that two jurors had been approached during the trial

Near is interchangeable with approach only when used in reference to persons or things that draw close in space or time. Because of its simplicity and familiarity it is sometimes preferred to approach in poetry but it is not as frequent in speech as might be expected, the expressions “get near” and “come near” often being used in preference.

  • the lark could scarce get out his notes for joy . . . as he neared his happy home, the ground—Tennyson
  • the echoed hoof nearing the distant shore
  • as the time of the birth of our Lord neared

Approximate, on the other hand, is interchangeable with approach chiefly in reference to things which come close to each other in some intellectual relation (as the actual to the ideal, the material to the spiritual, or one idea or entity to another).

  • results that approximate perfection
  • for law, at any given moment, even under the most favorable conditions, cannot do more than approximate to its own ideal
  • the candidate’s memory should closely approximate a hypothetical norm

Approximate is specifically used in reference to a sum, an amount, or a quantity that approaches but does not necessarily equal a given sum or amount.

  • a tablespoonful approximates three teaspoonfuls
  • their fund now approximates $5000