If you are talking about the distance or range of something, you might come across the word breadth. What does it mean? How do you use it? What are things that you should look out for if you use it?
There are two main definitions of breadth.
The first is the physical distance of width of something. It could be about something large (like a field) or something smaller (like someone’s shoulders).
In either case, most of the time breadth means that you are talking about something that is wide. At least, it is in comparison to other things in the same category.
- The breadth of his shoulders was quite attractive.
- The breadth of the piece of satin was wider than I imagined.
The second definition of breadth is the scope or range of something. Most of the time, this refers to knowledge, or something you can’t touch.
If the breadth of something like this is wide, that means it covers a lot of different subjects, situations, possibilities, etc. Some of the things that you can describe with breadth are:
- Vision (both literally and figuratively)
While the word itself simply talks about the scope or range of something, using it implies that this scope or range is broad. For example, having a breadth of knowledge means that you know a lot of things about a lot of subjects.
If a candidate for a job that you are hiring for has a breadth of experience, it means that they have a lot of experience in many different skills that you need.
I would never say someone who is a recent college graduate had a breadth of knowledge or experience.
Even if they have had several different internships, they would only be able to get a breadth of knowledge by studying at a higher level, or a breadth of experience by working for several years.
Notes about meaning: Depth v. Breadth
For both definitions, but especially for the second, a breadth of something is usually described with the adjectives wide, impressive, huge, etc.
Even though they are not mutually exclusive a breadth of knowledge, for example, usually implies that the person knows some basics about a lot of subjects. However, they are not deeply familiar with one or two. That is known as depth.
When you talk about having a well rounded experience or body of knowledge, you need to say that you have a breadth and a depth of it. That means that you not only know about a lot of different subjects, you also know a lot about each one.
Even if you were applying for something in which you would need a lot of different skills, combining the breadth and depth of those skills would be best.
Commonly confused words
If you take out the “d” in breadth, you end up with breath! It is easy to see why breadth could be confused with breath, especially because of that sneaky d. However, this is a very, very different word! A breath is the time when you take in air one time. It is a noun.
If you accidentally add an e at the end of breath, it becomes breathe. This is also easy to confuse, as it is the verb form of breath.
When you breathe, you take in air into your lungs. You can breathe in when you smell something pleasant, like freshly baked cookies! Each time you breathe, you are taking in a breath.
Be careful of these words, which are pronounced similarly but have very different meanings!
A Hair’s Breadth Definition
While breadth usually describes something that is wide or vast, it still means the width of something. If you want to describe something that is very thin, such as a hair, you can refer to it as a hair’s breadth.
This can also be a single word: hairbreadth or hair-breadth. It is also possible that you could see the spelling hare’s breadth. However, this is a spelling error. A hare is like a rabbit, and a hare’s breadth is a phrase with no meaning.
Usually, a hair’s breadth is used to describe something that is very, very close. There is probably a competition of some kind (or a deadline), and one person wins by just being a tiny bit faster than the other.
It could also just be a way to characterize a small margin. Some examples of this use are:
- When the votes were counted, the first candidate won by just a hair’s breadth.
- It was an extremely close finish, but the blue horse crossed the finish line just a hair’s breadth before the red horse, winning the first prize.
- The town suffered heavy bombing, coming within a hair’s breadth of being completely and utterly destroyed.
1. Definition: How wide something is?
The width of the box is longer than its length.
I measured the thickness of the book with a ruler.
His arm span is so large that he could hug a tree and still be able to touch the fingers on his right hand with the fingers on his left.
Note: The diameter of something must be how wide a circle is; you cannot measure the diameter of a different shape.
The diameter of the circle is 1 meter long.
The wideness of the recording studio amazed him.
2. Definition: How much of something can be covered?
The question you asked does not fall into the scope of this class, but if you want to meet me after class to talk about it I would be happy to help you!
The range that she could cover with her voice was very wide.
The extent to which I will tolerate your disrespect is about to reach its limit.
Taylor Swift’s influence has so much reach that big brands are willing to pay her millions of dollars to ensure she will endorse them.
The scale of the project is beyond anything that anyone ever expected.
The degree to which this issue affects somebody usually determines how interested they are in the topic, even if it has important social implications, like climate change.
The broadness of the policy meant that it would affect every single person in the country.