I have a question about the usage of the phrases "take a broad view of something" and "take a wide view of something". Should they be interpreted to mean:

A.--consider the general aspects, rather than specific aspects, of something

, or:

B.--include a great variety of things when considering something

Keeping in mind the interchangeability of "broad" and "wide".

Definition 3 for "broad" in this dictionary:

def 3: including a great variety of people or things

with this example usage:

She took a broad view of the duties of being a teacher.

, which favors interpretation B.

But definition 3 for "wide" in this dictionary:

def 3: concerning the basic aspects of something rather than the details

, with this example usage:

Senior managers are expected to take a wider view of problems.

which favors the interpretation A.

So, if I write:

He took a broad/wide view of the economy.

, does it mean he only looked at the general aspects of the economy, or that he included a lot of other stuff when thinking about the economy?

  • As a learner, I think previous sentences, the so-called context, would make it clear. – Cardinal Sep 20 '16 at 22:34
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    Whatever the context, @Cardinal , I think the distinction between broad and wide is so tiny as to be imperceptible. I can't think of an example in which an author's meaning would be misunderstood due to the use of one or the other. Neither adjective is specific enough to cause a problem. If, for instance, an author really wanted to say that someone included a lot of other stuff when thinking about the economy, it would be wise to use a more specific descriptor than either broad or wide. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 20 '16 at 22:56
  • @P.E.Dant So, both sentences "He took a broad view of the economy" and "He took a wide view of the economy" are ambiguous? – meatie Sep 21 '16 at 0:49
  • Not ambiguous, but neither modifier is at all specific. Any specificity has to come from the rest of the writing. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 21 '16 at 1:00
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    "General" is devoid of specificity in English, just as are broad and wide in this context. The modifier "general" has come to mean something like "I can't be bothered to come up with a specific modifier, or there is none, so I'll write general and explain what I mean in the rest of the paragraph." That is admittedly a trifle hyperbolic, but not far from the truth. @Readin has it about right below when he says of broad and wide that the connotation is a lack of limitation; catholic would have been useful here, in 1520. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 21 '16 at 5:31

P.E.Dant is correct that "broad" and "wide" are so similar that in this case they are interchangeable. The key point in both sentences is to avoid putting limits on what you think about or do.

She took a broad view of the duties of being a teacher means she didn't limit herself to just lecturing and grading papers. She looked for other ways to serve. Perhaps she checked into the children's home lives to see if there is stability and nutrition. Perhaps she arranged extra-curricular activities or special events. Perhaps she lobbied for changes to the way the school is run.

Similarly when you say Senior managers are expected to take a wider view of problems the point is that they don't limit is thinking to simply solving the probem. The tire is flat? The junior engineer limits himself to fixing the problem—he patches it. The senior manager considers whether patching it is cost-effective given the age of the tire and the car. The senior manager considers whether buying a new tire instead of patching would create a better relationship with a supplier. The senior manager considers how it looks to have a vehicle representing their company driving around with an ugly patch.

Whether you use "broad" or "wide", the meaning is that you avoid limiting your thinking.

  • But isn't it possible to misread "She took a broad view of the duties of being a teacher" to mean "She has a general view of the duties..." instead of "She thought there is more to being a teacher"? – meatie Sep 21 '16 at 5:12
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    @meatie a native English reader would probably not misread the phrase in that way. The connotations of "broad" and "wide" in this context are rarely negative, and only become so due to context. For example, "she took too broad a view" would clearly communicate that her view was lacking in detail. – Jesse Feb 20 '18 at 22:41

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