1. Do students sit in the back of a bus or the rear?
2. When you enter school, do you enter the lobby or the foyer?
3. If the school orchestra is playing, would you be attending their concert or recital?
4. Is the middle of your classroom the same as the center?
(1) The rear of the bus, which refers to the final or end section - as in bringing up the rear of a parade. 'Back' implies the opposite of 'front,' but not the tail end of something the way 'rear' does. For example, a sheet of paper has a back and a front. Not a rear.
(2) The lobby. A lobby is an entrance hall. A foyer is a large entrance hall, as in a hotel, cinema, or theater. Originally, a foyer meant 'hearth.' It was the room where the audience retreated to warm up between acts.
(3) Their concert, from the Italian 'concerto,' meaning performing together like a symphony. A recital is smaller and more personal, often given by one or two players for an intimate group.
(4) No, not necessarily. The difference is in precision. The middle is somewhere near the center. The center is that point equidistant from the sides.
SOURCES: 'Room's Dictionary of Distinguishables,' by Adrian Room; Concise Oxford Dictionary; 'Cassell's Modern Guide to Synonyms and Related Words,' edited by S.I. Hayakawa and P.J. Fletcher; and Webster's Dictionary.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society