Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
New York City directions English tutorial

Do you live on a street, avenue, or road? 

Are you aware of the differences between these two words or terms?

If you find it confusing to understand the differences between “road”, “avenue”, “street” or “lane” then you are not alone.

We’re going to help you to understand how these work in conversation, and why any differences really don’t matter in the end.

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Dear Lindsay,

Thank you for such a wonderful show, I just love it! It is by chance that I found you, and now I listen to your episodes every day .

So I have a question for you that I’m hoping you can help to answer. What is the difference between a street and an avenue? I’ve heard both terms used and I’m just not sure what the difference is. Any help that you could provide would be great!

Thank you,

Massoud Asil

Looking At Very Minor and Confusing Differences

The question from our listener is a great one, and realistically it’s not even something that many natives have thought much about.

When you start to look into it, you will find a lot of confusing information about technical differences.

You will find that even natives use the words street or avenue interchangeably, because they may not even know the differences.

It’s not valuable to get into all of the technical differences, but we will talk about some important words to know when it comes to navigating a city.

When you look at what the differences between the words “street” and “avenue” there really isn’t any.

You will also hear the words “road” or “lane”, and these are often used in the suburbs.

Again the differences with these two words are minimal and far too technical to even worry about.

So you are likely to hear “street”, “avenue”, “road”, and “lane” used in conversations and just know that they are all used interchangeably.

The differences are minimal and nothing to worry about, and so you can use them as you see fit in conversation.

Looking At This In A Big City

When you look at these words and how they work in conversation, it can be helpful to look at an example.

We’re going to look at this in the instance of talking about NYC because this is a great city for trying to navigate through.

If you can envision this or even live it for yourself then you can start to see how navigating through a big city and using these terms can work.

  • Streets and avenues cross: Ultimately they are the same but perpendicular. So in the instance of NYC, you may be at the intersection of 34th street and 8th avenue. Natives often say the street first in this direction provided. You may just say 34th and 8th for an accurate and easy to navigate direction to provide.
  • When you get downtown, there are often more streets with names rather than numbers: This is when a native may say that you are “off the grid” because it changes like that. If you are “on the grid” it tends to be easier to navigate because it’s usually just numbers or letters (avenue A)
  • In NYC, there are also names: There can be simple street names like Lexington Avenue. This is actually on the grid, but you can start to see how this works.

It can be confusing to get around, and you are not alone if you find it to be this way.

You may have to ask someone “which way is north?”

It can be hard to figure it all out, but once you do then it sort of clicks and becomes more natural to you.

Generally speaking though, the idea of these words is similar if not the very same.

If you know that then you don’t have to worry about this and you can use them interchangeably.

Learning Through Idioms

As you have probably seen by now, there are often some closely associated idioms.

These can be helpful to learn and to use in conversation.

Though they may not have much to do with the actual definition of the word, they can be a great addition to conversations centered around the word or theme.

  • Street Smart: This means that you have skills beyond just academic. It means that you know how to protect yourself out in the world, or on the “streets.” It means that you have common sense and know how to stand up for yourself. You are not just book smart, but you are “street smart” too if you have it all pulled together.
  • Explore Every Avenue: You want to see everything and take it all in. You want to consider all of your options. This can be a good phrase to use when you are trying to make a big decision. Rather than jumping into a big decision, you want to weigh things out and “explore every avenue” before you make a big decision.
  • Bump In The Road: This means that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes you may find that you experience a setback or something that keeps you from getting to where you want to be. This “bump in the road” is often temporary and you can continue on, but it can be frustrating when you are in it.

There are more of these, but this is a good start around this topic.

The main thing is to remember is that there may be technical differences, but you don’t need to worry about those.

Most native speakers don’t think about the small technicalities, but rather just use these interchangeably.

You just want to approach this the way that natives do, and just learn the actual name of the street/road/lane/avenue and then use it in conversation.


Here’s a tip–learn all about a new city!

Find a city you are interested in and explore it on Google maps.

Take note of the difference in the way the streets and roads are named compared to other places.

Really take the time to study and learn about this new city, and the way that it’s laid out.

Report back your findings and use this as motivation to go to this new city and be a tourist and explorer.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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