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I've been following the Genki textbook up until now and I learnt to use そば to talk about things that are near something else. I recently bought a JLPT N5 textbook, as it's my intention to try and take it someday, and found the word がわ. Looking it up, I found it listed as ~side. Could somebody provide some examples and explain the difference, if any, between them?

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I think そば is used for saying something is near something, whereas 〜側【がわ】 is usually used in collocations like 右側【みぎ・がわ】 and 左側【ひだり・がわ】, meaning right-side and left side respectively.

An example of each would be...

郵便局【ゆう・びん・きょく】は美術館【び・じゅつ・かん】のそばにあります。 The post office is near the art museum.

郵便局【ゆう・びん・きょく】は美術館【び・じゅつ・かん】の左側にあります。 The post office is on the left side of the art museum.

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One big difference is that がわ can me used to mean "side" in the sense of a(n) "(opposing) stance".

  • [訴追]{そ・つい}側・[検察]{けん・さつ}側 (the prosecution) ←→ [被告]{ひ・こく}側 (the defense)
  • 学生側の不満1 → Dissatisfaction on the part/side of the students
  • 責任は会社側にある2 → The fault is on the part/side of the company

1 Example taken from プログレッシブ英和・和英中辞典
2 Example taken from ウィズダム英和辞典

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Possibly an easier way of generally defining the difference would be...

そば = Next to

= On the side of (both arguments, and directions).

駅の向こう側にあるスーパーは薬局のそばにあります。[The Chemist/Drug Store is next to the Supermarket on the far side of the Train Station]

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