breath vs. breadth

What is the difference between breath and breadth?

These two words sometimes cause confusion because their spelling and pronunciation are very similar.
Breath, by far the more common of the two, is pronounced /brɛθ/. It most simply refers to the act or an instance of breathing in air, as in:
  • “I have to hold my breath every time we drive by the landfill.”
  • “Just take a deep breath and tell me what happened.”
Breadth has a very similar pronunciation: /brɛdθ/. The /d/ sound (sometimes sharpened to a /t/ sound, depending on dialect) is often very subtly pronounced, with it blending into the /θ/ sound produced by TH. Because of this somewhat ambiguous pronunciation distinction, some writers mistakenly use breath when they mean to write breadth, which means “the linear measurement from side to side,” or, by extension, “wideness of range, scope, tolerance, viewpoints, etc.” For example:
  • “The breadth and ornate décor of the cathedral was stunning.”
  • “In my mind, the greatest benefit of going to college is the breadth of ideas and perspectives you can encounter and learn from.”

Spelling Tricks and Tips

A quick way to remember the correct spelling is to keep in mind that, when used literally, breadth is roughly synonymous with width. If what you’re writing does not have to do with the wideness of something, breath will be the correct spelling.
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