Surrounded vs. Surrounding

The verb “surround” means to encircle, to enclose, or to confine on all sides so as to prevent escape or communication. The latter meaning brings to mind TV shows where the cops tell the robbers to give up because they are surrounded, i.e., all the entrances and exits are covered by armed police.

In the oil patch, where we frequently use five-spot or nine-spot patterns for enhanced oil recovery, flow rates of injectors and producers can be tweaked to maximize overall field production. I’ve seen some confusion as to whether a certain well is surrounded or surrounding, and this depends on the relationship to the other wells in the area.

Bad Example:

Well ABC-1 experienced steam breakthrough, but we were not sure which of the surrounded injectors was responsible.

In this example, the word should be “surrounding.” The injectors are surrounding (encircling) this producer; the producer is surrounded (encircled) by injectors.

Some folks have wondered whether you should say that a certain item is surrounded with something or surrounded by something. The answer, of course, is “that depends.”
In most cases they are interchangeable.


The house is surrounded with pine trees. The house is surrounded by pine trees. Both are correct.

However, if you are surrounding something with something else, they may not be interchangeable.

For example, you would say:

Grandma always surrounded the Thanksgiving turkey with fresh cranberries.

You would not say:

Grandma always surrounded the Thanksgiving turkey by fresh cranberries.

Quote of the Day:

“A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them.”

– Horace Mann, American educator and statesman, 1796-1859


One Response to “Surrounded vs. Surrounding”

  1. petrocomputing Says:

    Mohamed emailed me the following comment, and my reply is below:

    “I think we would say “Grandma always surrounds the Thanksgiving turkey with fresh cranberries.”, and wouldn’t say “Grandma always surrounded the Thanksgiving turkey with fresh cranberries”.”

    Dear Mohamed:
    Well, Grandma died years ago, so she is not surrounding anything anymore. But back when she was alive, every year at Thanksgiving, she always surrounded the turkey on the platter with cranberries.
    The past tense I used in the original sentence conveys that this repetitive action has stopped.
    I hope that explains things well.

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