Word Confusion: Breadth vs Breath vs Breathe

Posted February 15, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 19 August 2017

This one is subtle, but it can definitely cause me to hold my breath when I come across it. I’m never sure if the person will be able to breathe or if they’re merely out for a breath of air, but only the breadth of time will tell.

I must confess I generally think of someone getting mouth-to-mouth when I see the word breathe. It’s that worry, that voice in my mind [ooh, that’s a scary thought] saying, “C’mon, honey, breathe. You can do it. Just breathe, so I know you’re alive.”

As for breadth, well, it simply brings to life the cover of the latest hot romance I’m reading…ooh, mama!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Breadth Breath Breathe
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Nathane Jackson” courtesy of VegNews

Check out the breadth of them shoulders!!

“Dragon’s Breath” by Wikipedia user Tk033 is under the GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 licenses, via Wikimedia Commons

“Breath Inhaler” courtesy of
The Telegraph

An inhaler helps asthmatics breathe.

Part of Grammar:
Plural for noun: breadths
Plural for noun: breaths
Verb, intransitive & transitive

Past tense or past participle: breathed
Gerund or Present participle: breathing

Distance or measurement from side to side of something


Capacity to accept a wide range of ideas or beliefs

Overall unity of artistic effect

An inhalation or exhalation of air from the lungs

Physiological process of taking air into the lungs and expelling it again

[Archaic] Power of breathing; life

A brief moment

The time required for one act of respiration

A slight movement of air

A sign, hint, or suggestion

Verb, intransitive:
Take air into the lungs and then expel it, especially as a regular physiological process

  • Be or seem to be alive because of this
  • [Literary; of wind] Blow softly
  • [With direct speech] Say something with quiet intensity
  • [Of an animal or plant] Respire or exchange gases
  • [Of wine] Be exposed to fresh air
  • [Of material or soil) admit or emit air or moisture
  • [Breathe upon; archaic or literary] Tarnish or taint

Verb, transitive:
Take air into the lungs and then expel it, especially as a regular physiological process

  • Give an impression of something
  • Allow a horse to rest after exertion
That shirt certainly does emphasize the breadth of the shoulders on that man!

We traveled the length and breadth of Africa.

Yes, she does have a great breadth of experience.

The minister is not noted for his breadth of vision.

Leonardo da Vinci displayed great breadth in his handling of art as well as the machines of war.

Take a deep breath and hold it.

He could see his breath in the cold air.

She paused for breath.

In Las Vegas, they’ll marry you in a breath.

Damn, there’s not a breath of wind.

He avoided the slightest breath of scandal.

“She’s a breath of fresh air,” he sighed.

Oh, man, that breath is just nasty!

Verb, intransitive:
She was wheezing as she breathed.

Breathe in through your nose.

He breathed out heavily.

At least I’m still breathing.

“We’re together at last,” she breathed.

Plants breathe through their roots.

Red wine needs untold time to breathe.

Let your lawn breathe by putting air into the soil.

Before the queen’s fair name was breathed upon.

At least I’m still breathing.

Now I can breathe freely.

Plants breathe through their roots.

Red wine needs to breathe before being drunk.

“We’re together at last,” she breathed.

Verb, transitive:
We are polluting the air we breathe.

The whole room breathed an air of hygienic efficiency.

C’mon, honey, breathe it in.

Adverb: breadthways, breadthwise Adjective: breathable, breathed, breathier, breathiest, breathless, breathtaking, breathy
Adverb: breathily, breathlessly, breathtakingly
Noun: breathalyzer, breatharian, breather, breathing, breathiness, breathlessness
Verb, transitive: breathalyze,
History of the Word:
Early 16th century from the obsolete brede in the same sense (and related to broad) + the suffix -th2, on the pattern of length. Old English brǣth meaning smell, scent is of Germanic origin Middle English in the sense of exhale or steam. It’s from breath.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Puffer Fish – Costa Rica by davebrenner (originally posted to Flickr as Puffer fish) is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.