Expanse: a large, open area of land, water, or sky (Cambridge)

Stretch: a continuous area of land or water (Cambridge)

Expanse: a very large area of water, sky, land etc (Longman)

Stretch: an area of land or water, especially one that is long and narrow (Longman)

What is the difference between an expanse of sea and a stretch of sea? How do I know when to use which?

Does "expanse" mean the sea stretches out as far as your eyes can reach?

Does "stretch" mean an area of sea that is narrow and long, which is enclosed and bounded by the land?

2 Answers 2


To me, an "expanse" is a large area open all around, as far as the eye can see. Most likely includes areas farther than the eye can see.

A "stretch" of land or water seems to refer more to some generically specific section one might travel. It might be part of an expanse, or it might be long and narrow. For example, if I were travelling in a boat across the ocean (or an "expanse of sea"), I might say "that stretch of our trip was quite smooth". Or "I expect this next stretch to be a little rougher."

  • We are looking for informed answers, not opinion or speculation. Please provide sources for your definitions.
    – Davo
    Apr 12, 2019 at 14:42
  • @Davo thanks for the tip. I am new to this site, but I just read what I could in the Help section, and didn't really see that what you mention is required in the answers. I expected anything offering a better understanding of the words or phrases in question would be helpful. If it were as simple as linking to something on the internet, we wouldn't need this forum, right? Sometimes it takes explanations, and not just more links to a dictionary. Guess it's a newbie perspective. I'm not trying to be sassy here, but I'm confused as to whether we should try to provide helpful answers or not. Apr 12, 2019 at 19:31
  • Hi and welcome. I apologize for being brusque. There's a big difference between "to me, A means B" and "as a native speaker from (location) for (duration), I've only observed A to mean B". The former is opinion, while the latter is reporting regional habitual use and (potentially) decades of experience. To back up the latter with reputable citations would make it a very good answer. Does that help?
    – Davo
    Apr 12, 2019 at 19:47
  • Thanks for your explanation. It helps. Apr 13, 2019 at 23:05

I put both cases on Google Scholar, consulting more than a dozen articles and book chapters for each case.

I have noticed that both were employed with the meaning of high seas extensions (open seas, more deeper and wider) and also referring to the extension of narrower and longer and more closed features bounded by land (coastal features).

However, the term "stretch" has appeared in a greater number of articles and book chapters.

  • This serves as a rough guide on the usage. Apr 13, 2019 at 23:07

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