Hair’s Breadth or Hair’s Breath – Definition & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

When you exceed your opponent’s score during the last five seconds, did you win by a hair’s breadth or by a hair’s breath? Good question, right? I even find myself Googling the difference when I’m writing.

My post will show you how to properly use a hair’s breadth in a sentence. I’ll talk about the meaning of this idiomatic expressionand some examples of where to use it.

Is it Hair’s Breadth or Hair’s Breath?

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Trend of the term “Hair’s Breadth”

The correct idiomatic expression is a hair’s breadth away, meaning a minimal distance or very close. The noun breadth has two meanings. First, it is the distance from side to side or the width of something. Second, breadth can mean extent or range.

A hair’s breadth away uses the first meaning of breadth as hyperbole or exaggeration of a very small distance. It could be referring to the length of hair or its diameter, which is much smaller.

Using a hair’s breath could give an interesting image. However, it does not make sense when the intended meaning is very close. The same is true with the incorrect phrase a hare’s breath.

How Big is a Hair’s Breadth?

A hair’s breadth cannot be measured in numbers because it is a creative way to say very close. Considering breadth means width or size, and a single hair isn’t very big, you can imagine it’s a narrow margin.

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For example, winning against someone in a marathon by a hair’s breadth could mean winning against them by only a few seconds or milliseconds. It could also mean winning against them by a few centimeters.

Hair’s Breadth Origin

A hair’s breadth has been used since the mid-15th century as an allegory. The initial expression was more formal, hairbreadth ‘scape, which means a narrow escape. This expression also means something that nearly didn’t happen.

The first recorded use was in the 1793 National Gazette. It said, “He related their threats against thee; thy fears; thy hair-breadth ‘scapes…”

Today, we use a hair’s breadth in situations that usually involve long or winning. You’ll read or see it in contests, elections, and tournaments. You can also use it in contexts that include escaping.

Examples of Hair’s Breadth in a Sentence

Here are some examples of hair’s breadth in a sentence.

  • The businessman lost the election for senator by only a hair’s breadth. He only needed six more votes.
  • The company is a hair’s breadth away from bankruptcy; The CEO should do something as soon as possible.
  • The residents were able to evacuate by a hair’s breadth before the volcano erupted.
  • Rien scored during the last ten seconds, so we won by a hair’s breadth
  • …the yen has tumbled close to 4% this month and traded around the 138.50 level Tuesday. That’s a hair’s breadth from a fresh 24-year low and the 140 level which some market watchers have flagged as key for policymakers. [Bloomberg]

Use “A Hair’s Breadth”

To perform an action by a hair’s breadth means doing it by a very close margin. This phrase has been around since the 15th century to show the exaggeration of winning, losing, or escaping closely.

Do not use a hair’s breath or a hare’s breath. Remember that the correct term is a hair’s breadth because breadth refers to range, extent, distance, or width.