Most people don’t think about their own language, whatever that language happens to be. Possible exceptions could be teachers of their own languages, writers, and maybe even careful readers, if they even exist anymore. If one lives overseas, one interacts every day with huge numbers of “English learners” with varying skill levels. They ask the damnedest questions, they do, and they invite the expat to think about things that probably never would have come up otherwise.
I was asked the other day what the difference was between a veranda and a terrace. We all have, let’s say, small outside spaces attached to our apartments, and my questioner had always thought of them as terraces. She’d recently heard the word veranda, an issue of first impression. I had never considered this question before.
I tended to call them verandas myself, and when I thought about it I recalled hearing native English speakers routinely call them either verandas, terraces or balconies. What was the difference? Was there, in fact, a difference between a terrace and a veranda? Must a balcony be indoors? The closest I got to an answer was that I had a hunch that a terrace should be on the ground.
So I checked my Oxford Unabridged, and here’s the deal:
A terrace is on the ground floor, attached to the building, and not covered;
A veranda is also on the ground floor, attached to the building, but a veranda is covered;
What we have on these apartments is a balcony.
One more mystery solved! And thank you, dear questioner, for focusing my attention on what was, for me and many others, a common source of error.