near / ni(ə)r/ • adv. 1. at or to a short distance away; nearby: a bomb exploding somewhere near | [comparative] she took a step nearer. 2. a short time away in the future: the time for his retirement was drawing near.3. almost: a near perfect fit.4. archaic or dial. almost: I near fell out of the chair.• prep. (also near to) 1. at or to a short distance away from (a place): the parking lot near the sawmill | do you live near here? | [superlative] the table nearest the door. 2. a short period of time from: near the end of the war | [comparative] details will be given nearer the date. 3. close to (a state); verging on: she gave a tiny smile, brave but near tears | she was near death. ∎ (used before an amount) a small amount below (something); approaching: temperatures near 2 million degrees K.4. similar to: a shape near to the original.• adj. 1. located a short distance away: a big house in the near distance | [superlative] I was fifteen miles from the nearest town. 2. only a short time ahead: the conflict is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.3. similar: [superlative] walking in these shoes is the nearest thing to floating on air. ∎ close to being (the thing mentioned): his state of near despair | a near disaster. ∎ having a close family connection: the loss of a child or other near relative.4. located on the side of a vehicle that is normally closest to the curb: the near right-hand end window of the trailer. Compare with off (sense 3).5. archaic (of a person) stingy; miserly.• v. [tr.] come near to (someone or something); approach: soon the cab would be nearing State Street | [intr.] lunchtime neared. PHRASES: near at hand within easy reach. ∎ about to happen or come about: an all-electric future was near at hand.near enough sufficiently close to being the case for all practical purposes: this price was near enough the going rate for rent.one's nearest and dearest one's close friends and relatives.so near and yet so far a rueful comment on someone's narrow failure to achieve an aim.DERIVATIVES: near·ish adj.near·ness n.ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old Norse nær ‘nearer,’ comparative of ná, corresponding to Old English nēah ‘nigh.’
near is my kirtle, but nearer is my smock proverbial saying, mid 15th century, used as a justification for putting one's own interests first (a kirtle is a woman's skirt or gown, and a smock is an undergarment). A similar idea is found in the writings of the Roman comic dramatist Plautus (c.250–184 bc), ‘my tunic is closer than my cloak.’ (Compare near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin.)
near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin proverbial saying, late 16th century, which like near is my kirtle, but nearer is my smock is a justification of self-interest. The same idea is found in early 14th-century French, ‘my skin is nearer to me than my shirt.’
so near and yet so far a rueful comment on a narrow failure to achieve an aim.
See also nearer, nearest, not the rose but near it, sail near the wind, don't go near the water.
Hence prep. close to XIII; adj. closely placed or related XIV, niggardly XVII. nearly (-LY2) closely XVI; almost XVII; superseded near adv. in all exc. the purely physical uses.