The difference between a gate and a door

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The difference between a gate and a door

Postby No Picnic » Sat Mar 29, 2008 2:09 am UTC

I teach English at a Chinese university. In Mandarin, there is not distinction between "gate" and "door." I have found it tricky trying to explain it to them, and I haven't found dictionaries to be particularly helpful. Gates are not always bigger than doors. They are not always outside, such as a "baby gate" to keep toddlers out of some area. I know the difference, but how can I explain it?

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby lowbart » Sat Mar 29, 2008 2:40 am UTC

This is one way to think of it:

A door is set in a wall, and a gate is set in a fence.

Okay, what's the difference between a wall and a fence?

It depends, especially if it's a tall fence, but walls usually hold something up, and fences are usually freestanding.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Robin S » Sat Mar 29, 2008 2:43 am UTC

Even if the wall doesn't hold anything up, it still usually has a door rather than a gate. The difference as I perceive it is that a door is surrounded by either wall or, occasionally, ceiling on three of its sides, whereas a gate stretches the full height of the fence and is therefore surrounded on only two sides. However, I can't see this distinction made explicitly on, say, dictionary.com or Wikipedia.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Silas » Sat Mar 29, 2008 4:06 am UTC

It seems to me that, except for 'baby gates' and other recent developments, gates divide things that are both outdoors: one pasture from the next, a courtyard from the street, the inside of city walls from the outside. If either side is indoors, it's a door. There are exceptions in modern language, of course, but I think those are generally named according to the older gate or door that they resemble (i.e., baby gates look like the kind of gate that might keep sheep on one side of a fence). Of course, if you were in, say, a giant stadium, and an area were fenced off, the opening in the fence would still be a gate, not a door, so this rule isn't perfect. And turnstiles are still a kind of gate, there's that, too.

Alternately, a door closes into a doorjam, generally just connects two fenceposts (or, in the case of a baby gate, two sides of the doorjam). I can only think of one or two cases where this is actually different from the one above: the things that block the opening in city walls: are they ever doors, or always gates?
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Robin S » Sat Mar 29, 2008 4:21 am UTC

Your second definition seems to agree with mine. "City gates" is a good exception: a quick Google search overwhelmingly indicates that "city doors", in the sense usually associated with "city gates", is almost never used. I suppose it would sound less grandiose. Big things tend to have gates. But then, arguably, it is almost a different meaning of the word "gate", and so the usual differentiation between standard usage of the two words should stand. dictionary.com seems to agree with me; here are its first few definitions for "gate":

1. a movable barrier, usually on hinges, closing an opening in a fence, wall, or other enclosure.
2. an opening permitting passage through an enclosure.
3. a tower, architectural setting, etc., for defending or adorning such an opening or for providing a monumental entrance to a street, park, etc.: the gates of the walled city; the palace gate.

The definition the OP is looking for would be number 1. By specifying that a gate closes "an opening in an enclosure", to me it seems to imply that there is nothing above the gate. By contrast, for "door" it gives the following:

1. a movable, usually solid, barrier for opening and closing an entranceway, cupboard, cabinet, or the like, commonly turning on hinges or sliding in grooves.

"Entranceway", to me, is more likely to denote there being a lintel of some description in addition to the two jambs.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Owehn » Sat Mar 29, 2008 6:01 am UTC

My personal distinction would probably be something like: "A gate is something that is designed to allow or disallow passage (esp. of people), whereas a door is designed to offer optional continuity in a wall."

From this, you can deduce a few likely qualities of doors and gates. Since people cannot fit through sufficiently narrow openings, gates need not be solid (and in fact typically aren't), whereas walls are usually solid, so so are doors. Since fences are designed to completely disallow passage, it is common for gates to be located in them (unlike doors).
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Number3Pencils » Sun Mar 30, 2008 12:13 am UTC

Robin S wrote:Even if the wall doesn't hold anything up, it still usually has a door rather than a gate. The difference as I perceive it is that a door is surrounded by either wall or, occasionally, ceiling on three of its sides, whereas a gate stretches the full height of the fence and is therefore surrounded on only two sides. However, I can't see this distinction made explicitly on, say, dictionary.com or Wikipedia.

This is the conclusion I reach. A door is entirely surrounded by the wall, whereas a gate has no wall on top of it. How about this, to keep it short: "You can climb over a gate, but not a door."
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Silas » Sun Mar 30, 2008 5:00 am UTC

But you can't always climb over a gate. Think of a barbed-wire-topped chain link fence, around a prison, fifteen feet tall. Imagine there's a <gate or door>, seven feet high, three wide, on hinges, in a frame with a lintel (I imagine constructed of pipes- you may know the kind). To my mind, that would still be a gate. You couldn't climb over that without climbing over the whole fence. Same goes for city gates, but maybe those are sui generis.

I still feel like the indoor/outdoor distinction captures more of what makes a gate or door than the others here.

Also for consideration: doors tend to be held up by their hinges, whereas gates tend to rest on the floor or ground (when closed). A half-dozen counterexamples come to mind on the gate side, but it still informs the understanding.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Benny the Bear » Sun Mar 30, 2008 2:36 pm UTC

Perhaps use pictures along with your description?

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Velifer » Mon Mar 31, 2008 8:02 pm UTC

Doors are also typically to bar the passage of people, while gates typically bar the passage of animals, vehicles, or other inanimates (flood gates stopping water, conceptual gates in electronics).

...doors are often solid, gates are often not?
(edit: Owehn said that already though.)
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby ave_matthew » Mon Mar 31, 2008 8:07 pm UTC

I think I agree with the permissive thing,

Gate : a structure impeeding passage through an opening in a structure seperating two area

Door : a structure allowing passage through an opening in a structure seperating two areas.

Ex. Sluice gates block water. because a sluice door would let it through.
Any animal enclosure has a gate which keeps the animals in, and a door that allows the passage of humans in
Your house has a door to let you in and a gate to keep the others out.
gates are often associated with fences because fences keep things contained/out and hence hacve fences.
If you want to check think of any structure that divides two spaces, imagina hole in it and imagine that the hole has a covering, now try both words with that covering and see which one fits.
Like so . . .
Word : window.
imagine a hole with a cover in the window.
window door / window fence.
I think door sounds better.
so a window is designed to permit the passage of light, so door works.
Does that make sense?
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Robin S » Mon Mar 31, 2008 8:13 pm UTC

It's a neat idea, but doesn't really work for me. For a start, most houses I know of have a door only, so it must serve a purpose that you suggest is generally reserved for gates. Similarly, I don't know many farm enclosures with a door, so when farmers wants to enter these enclosures they use the gates (assuming there aren't any stiles). In fact, the purpose of either a door or a gate is to selectively allow or disallow passage. I see this distinction that "gates are to keep things in/out; doors are to let things in/out" as pretty much arbitrary.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby armorsmith42 » Mon Mar 31, 2008 8:49 pm UTC

gates block people, animals, something moving.

doors block the cold air.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby zenten » Tue Apr 01, 2008 4:58 pm UTC

armorsmith42 wrote:gates block people, animals, something moving.

doors block the cold air.


What about a screen door?

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby zahlman » Wed Apr 02, 2008 8:48 pm UTC

No Picnic wrote:I teach English at a Chinese university. In Mandarin, there is not distinction between "gate" and "door." I have found it tricky trying to explain it to them, and I haven't found dictionaries to be particularly helpful. Gates are not always bigger than doors. They are not always outside, such as a "baby gate" to keep toddlers out of some area. I know the difference, but how can I explain it?


It's a gate iff it does not have a permanent frame attached to a roof.

I think that works. Baby gate - not attached permanently - check. Bathroom stall door - you can see over and under, but they lock into the walls, which attach to the ceiling - check.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Silas » Fri Apr 04, 2008 4:20 am UTC

What about, say, the refrigerator door? Cabinets have doors, but they're neither permanent nor attached to the ceiling.

And you could, hypothetically, affix a barrier to the entrance of your cubicle; if it swung on hinges, I'd call that a door, even though it wasn't permanent and didn't connect to the ceiling.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby zenten » Fri Apr 04, 2008 1:53 pm UTC

Silas wrote:What about, say, the refrigerator door? Cabinets have doors, but they're neither permanent nor attached to the ceiling.

And you could, hypothetically, affix a barrier to the entrance of your cubicle; if it swung on hinges, I'd call that a door, even though it wasn't permanent and didn't connect to the ceiling.


And if it consisted of iron bars set up in a pretty pattern with nothing to fill in the holes I would call it a gate.

I don't think there is an easy to describe difference here.

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Hexadecimator » Fri Apr 04, 2008 3:14 pm UTC

zahlman wrote:It's a gate iff it does not have a permanent frame attached to a roof.
AFAIK that works just fine. But, to be honest, it doesn't really matter if your students say gate instead of door or vice versa. If you went with inside=door outside=gate, that would be good enough.

On a side note, Latin doesn't have separate words either, but this may have been partly because Romans didn't have very many doors.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby jimrandomh » Fri Apr 04, 2008 5:02 pm UTC

Door: Car door, revolving door, back door (of a house), back door (secret admin account), back door (anus), cabinet door, pet door, false door.
Gate: City gate, toll gate, airport gate, jump gate, logic gate.

I don't think it's possible to fully separate these classes without using special cases. The problem is that there are a lot of compound words which choose arbitrarily between 'gate' and 'door', and can be shortened to just 'gate' or 'door'.

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Apr 04, 2008 5:35 pm UTC

zahlman wrote:It's a gate iff it does not have a permanent frame attached to a roof.

No, that doesn't work for everything we call doors and gates. For instance, you could talk about the door to a bathroom stall even if it's an outdoor bathroom with no roof (for whatever reason).

Like most things in natural languages, these two words are somewhat vague. Get over it.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby No Picnic » Sat Apr 05, 2008 12:14 am UTC

I'm completely satisfied to know that the distinction is ambiguous. Thank you for your help gentlemen (and ladies if any are present).

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby vorpal » Mon Apr 28, 2008 11:51 am UTC

You can see thru and put a hand/arm thru a gate. Not so a door.

Except of course glass doors on commercial premises, however the walls there are usually also glass which you can also see thru unlike a prototypical wall.

Anyways, it all just goes to show why essentialist approaches to semantics don't work.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby zenten » Mon Apr 28, 2008 8:37 pm UTC

No Picnic wrote:I'm completely satisfied to know that the distinction is ambiguous. Thank you for your help gentlemen (and ladies if any are present).


Actually, it's not. Everyone here has agreed if a specific example is a door or a gate. There's just no overarching pattern to it, so if you really want to learn the difference you would have to learn it by rote.

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby steewi » Tue Apr 29, 2008 1:06 am UTC

There are differing archetypes of "gate" and "door", which are quite distinct. However, there is some overlap in context and description. There are very few things that can either be a gate or a door (although they exist), but the exact differences are very difficult to describe accurately (i.e. When does a gate become a door?). There are two sets, which are very close together, with perhaps some overlap, and some intersection.

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby shivasprogeny » Tue Apr 29, 2008 3:08 am UTC

For me a gate implies that it is supposed to keep something out of some area.

A door on the otherhand intended to be freely opened and closed.

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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Yakk » Tue Apr 29, 2008 3:27 am UTC

As this is English, it comes down not to the technical definition, but rather to the history of the terms.

Gate comes from things that blocked or allowed passage through fences. Fences enclosed areas that held animals.

Door comes from entry ways into houses, or that divide parts inside houses.

Now, each gets associated with a term, and then travels from term to term.

Baby gates are named that way because they resemble gates in fences. City gates came from city walls, which where a barrier around the city. Screen doors where part of the door structure at the front of the house. Etc.

The actual assignment is arbitrary, but there are tendencies to distinguish between them.

I wouldn't be surprised if Door came from the Normans, while Gate was Saxon. That split in the English language is pretty important to understand, because it is one of the reasons why the English language often has two terms for something that is very similar. Chicken and Poultry, Cow and Beef, Pig and Pork, etc.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby Silas » Tue Apr 29, 2008 5:09 am UTC

That'd be nice, but a quick search suggests both terms are from OE (Saxon).

Also, another place with doors: prison cells. That's the last nail in the coffin on the theory that gates are to deny access but doors are to permit it.
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Re: The difference between a gate and a door

Postby vorpal » Tue Apr 29, 2008 9:23 am UTC

Silas wrote:That'd be nice, but a quick search suggests both terms are from OE (Saxon).


And before this gate comes from Old Frisian whereas its not clear where door came from before OE, though there are plenty of obviously related germanic forms.

Anyways, the OED sees the difference between door and gate to be:

gate:
An opening in a wall, made for the purpose of entrance and exit, and capable of being closed by a movable barrier, the existence of which is usually implied; said with reference to a city or other enclosure, or the enclosure-wall of a large building, formerly also to the bulding itself, where door or doors is now commonly employed.


door:
A movable barrier of wood or other material, consisting either of one piece, or of several pieces framed together, usually turning on hinges or sliding in a groove, and serving to close or open a passage into a building, room, etc.


This seems to suggest that a door and doorway are separate concepts, whereas for a gate the 'gateway' and the gate-proper are considered to be a single entity. That isn't a way of differentiating the two if you are a non-English speaker, nonetheless it is interesting that the frame for gate and door are different.
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