Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Idioms, Encyclopedia.


v. spread, spread·ing, spreads
1. To open to a fuller extent or width; stretch: spread out the tablecloth; a bird spreading its wings.
2. To make wider the gap between; move farther apart: spread her fingers.
a. To distribute over a surface in a layer: spread varnish on the steps.
b. To cover with a layer: spread a cracker with butter.
a. To distribute widely: The tornado spread destruction.
b. To make a wide or extensive arrangement of: We spread the bicycle parts out on the floor.
c. To exhibit or display the full extent of: the scene that was spread before us.
5. To cause to become widely seen or known; scatter or disseminate: spread the news; spread the beam of the flashlight.
a. To prepare (a table) for eating; set.
b. To arrange (food or a meal) on a table.
7. To flatten (a rivet end, for example) by pounding.
1. To be extended or enlarged: The farm fields spread to the horizon.
2. To move over an area, be distributed, or be widely dispersed: The troops spread out across the field. The volcano's ash spread over the continent.
3. To become known or prevalent over a wide area: The word spread fast.
4. To be exhibited, displayed, or visible in broad or full extent: The vista spread seemingly to infinity.
5. To become or admit of being distributed in a layer: This paint spreads really well.
6. To become separated; be forced farther apart: The land masses spread until there was an ocean between them.
a. The act or process of spreading: the spread of disease.
b. Dissemination, as of news; diffusion.
a. An open area of land; an expanse.
b. A ranch, farm, or estate.
3. The extent or limit to which something is or can be spread: The tree's canopy has a spread of 50 feet.
4. A cloth covering for a bed, table, or other piece of furniture.
5. Informal An abundant meal laid out on a table.
6. A food to be spread on bread or crackers.
a. Two facing pages of a magazine, newspaper, or book, considered as a unit.
b. An article or advertisement running across two or more columns of a newspaper or magazine.
a. A difference, as between two figures or totals: What's the spread between tallest and shortest?
b. A position taken in two or more options or futures contracts in order to profit from a change in their relative prices.
c. The difference between the price asked and bid for a particular security.
d. The difference in yields between two fixed-income securities, as between short-term and long-term bonds.
9. A number of points offered to equalize the chances of winning in a wager on a competition, usually between sports teams. Also called point spread.
10. Wingspread.
spread (oneself) thin
To work on too many projects: overextend oneself.

[Middle English spreden, from Old English -sprǣdan (as in tōsprǣdan, to spread out); see sper- in Indo-European roots.]

spread′a·bil′i·ty n.
spread′a·ble adj.
spread′a·bly adv.




  1. (Anxiety was) as contagious as a yawn —Barbara Lazear Ascher, New York Times/Hers, October 23, 1986
  2. Blown up [with fever] like a tire —Elena Poniatowska
  3. (Excuses) breaking out like pimples —Marge Piercy
  4. Breed like guinea pigs —Raymond Chandler
  5. Catch happiness as quickly as others catch colds —Storm Jameson
  6. Catching like fire in dry grass —William Dean Howells
  7. Contagious like the gladness of a happy child —Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  8. Excitement swept through Jalna [the estate which is the setting for a series of De La Roche novels] like a forest fire —Mazo De La Roche
  9. Expand like air in a pressure chamber —Penelope Gilliatt
  10. Gather like dust on a windowsill —Anon
  11. Multiply like troubles —Marge Piercy
  12. Passed around [German measles] like a dish of cool figs at the first rehearsal —Reynolds Price
  13. (Houses) popping up everywhere like the heat rash. Like pimples —George Garrett
  14. Spread a thought … like butter on toast —Carlos Fuentes
  15. (Feel her pleasure deepening and) spreading like a chord struck in all octaves at once, sustained, played, and then held and held till it slowly faded into its overtones —Marge Piercy
  16. (She looked at me, recognition) spreading like a rash —Sharon Sheehe Stark
  17. (Pain) spreading like lava —John Braine
  18. Spreading [throughout her system] … like poison dye —Margaret Millar

    In the mystery novel, The Fiend, the author uses the simile to describe a key character’s growing alertness to a dangerous situation.

  19. (Affection … ) spread like an epidemic through the room —Jean Stafford
  20. Spread like an unconfirmed rumor —Elyse Sommer
  21. Spread like a quenchless fire —Percy Bysshe Shelley
  22. Spread … like a tiny spray of ink on a piece of blotting paper —Franz Werfel
  23. Spread like butter under a knife —Lawrence Durrell
  24. Spread like dandelions after spring rain —Marilyn Ross about growth of directories, Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1987
  25. (But they cling and) spread like lichen —Elizabeth Bishop
  26. Spread like mushrooms after a fresh spring rain —Anon

    Mushrooms have long lent themselves to quick growth comparisons. A variation: “Grow like toadstools.”

  27. Spread like mushrooms across an unsuspecting garden —Tom Robbins
  28. Spread like pancake batter on a hot griddle —Elyse Sommer
  29. Spread like the desert —Henry James
  30. (Silence) spread … like water that a pebble stirs —Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  31. Spread out like a doily —Alma Stone
  32. Spread out (the sun) like a jellyfish —John Steinbeck
  33. (I saw the vineyards) spread out like wings —Eudora Welty
  34. Spreads faster than panic in a plane —Donald Seaman
  35. Spreads like a sigh —Anon
  36. (Love that) spreads like a stain of ink in absorbent cloth —Diane Wakoski

    As poet Wakoski links the spreading stain with love in her poem, My Little Heart Pops Out, so W. H. Auden uses “Ruin spreading like a stain” in Something Is Bound to Happen.

  37. Spreads like good news —Slogan for Satinwax, Economic Laboratory
  38. Spread through like a clumsy, uninvited guest who is obese and eats too much —Lorrie Moore

    The descriptive frame of reference in Moore’s novel, Self-Help, is cancer.

  39. (Enemies … are) sprouting (around me) like tulips —Peter Benchley
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.spreading - process or result of distributing or extending over a wide expanse of space
change of location, travel - a movement through space that changes the location of something
diffusion - the spread of social institutions (and myths and skills) from one society to another
dispersion, scattering - spreading widely or driving off
invasion - (pathology) the spread of pathogenic microorganisms or malignant cells to new sites in the body; "the tumor's invasion of surrounding structures"
irradiation - (physiology) the spread of sensory neural impulses in the cortex
radiation - the spread of a group of organisms into new habitats
2.Spreading - the opening of a subject to widespread discussion and debatespreading - the opening of a subject to widespread discussion and debate
transmission - communication by means of transmitted signals
circulation - the dissemination of copies of periodicals (as newspapers or magazines)
propagation, extension - the spreading of something (a belief or practice) into new regions
3.spreading - act of extending over a wider scope or expanse of space or time
extension - act of expanding in scope; making more widely available; "extension of the program to all in need"
circulation - the spread or transmission of something (as news or money) to a wider group or area
dispersal, dispersion, dissemination, diffusion - the act of dispersing or diffusing something; "the dispersion of the troops"; "the diffusion of knowledge"
strewing, scatter, scattering - the act of scattering
decentralisation, decentralization - the spread of power away from the center to local branches or governments
References in classic literature ?
They stopped at noon under a bower they made of palms, and, spreading the nets over them, got a little rest after a lunch.
He ran into the storeroom and brought out a gaudily painted harmonica, sat down on a bench, and spreading his fat legs apart began to play like a whole band.
The brook was irregular in its width, sometimes shooting through narrow fissures in the rocks, and at others spreading over acres of bottom land, forming little areas that might be termed ponds.
The shadows of the tall furniture grow deeper, and at first become more definite; then, spreading wider, they lose their distinctness of outline in the dark gray tide of oblivion, as it were, that creeps slowly over the various objects, and the one human figure sitting in the midst of them.
He made me a present of his embalmed head; took out his enormous tobacco wallet, and groping under the tobacco, drew out some thirty dollars in silver; then spreading them on the table, and mechanically dividing them into two equal portions, pushed one of them towards me, and said it was mine.
When she heard the name of the place called out, she hastily laid the child down in a little cradle formed by the hollow among the boxes, first carefully spreading under it her cloak; and then she sprung to the side of the boat, in hopes that, among the various hotel-waiters who thronged the wharf, she might see her husband.
He was spreading a report that I was a humbug, and that the reason I didn't accom- modate the people with a miracle was because I couldn't.
There was little of that sort of customary thing where the tenor and the soprano stand down by the footlights, warbling, with blended voices, and keep holding out their arms toward each other and drawing them back and spreading both hands over first one breast and then the other with a shake and a pressure--no, it was every rioter for himself and no blending.
We went sneaking down the slope of it to labboard, in the dark, towards the texas, feeling our way slow with our feet, and spreading our hands out to fend off the guys, for it was so dark we couldn't see no sign of them.
But the take kept spreading along and spreading along, and other people got to intruding themselves and taking up more and more room with their talk and their affairs.
This superintendent was a slim creature of thirty-five, with a sandy goatee and short sandy hair; he wore a stiff standing-collar whose upper edge almost reached his ears and whose sharp points curved forward abreast the corners of his mouth -- a fence that compelled a straight lookout ahead, and a turning of the whole body when a side view was required; his chin was propped on a spreading cravat which was as broad and as long as a bank-note, and had fringed ends; his boot toes were turned sharply up, in the fashion of the day, like sleigh- runners -- an effect patiently and laboriously produced by the young men by sitting with their toes pressed against a wall for hours together.
And when we see Jubiter Dunlap here spreading around in the very same disguise Jake told us HE was going to wear, we thought it was Jake his own self--and he was goo-gooing deef and dumb, and THAT was according to agreement.