Let's say I am a drill sergeant at a boot camp.

In this scenario, I want to tell the recruits that at "parade rest" position, the space between their feet should only be as wide as their shoulder width. I could simply say like that, but I do believe there is a better way to paraphrase it.

So, in this case, which of the following, if any, is the correct way to say it?

  1. Spread your legs as wide as your shoulders."
  2. Spread your legs as widely as your shoulders."

At first glance, the former seems right because shoulders can be wide but not widely. But then again, you can spread your legs widely but not wide. For me, the confusion is caused because the words "spread" and "shoulders" are each modified by a different speech part; "spread" should be modified by an adverb, whereas "shoulders" by an adjective.

So, which of the two sentences should I use? Also, I'd like to know if you guys have any better ways of saying what I want to say.

Also, please check if the followings are also grammatically correct.

  1. Your feet should be apart shoulder width.
  2. Your feet should be shoulder width apart.
  3. Your feet should be apart 3cm.
  4. Your feet should be 3cm apart.
  5. Open your eyes widely.
  6. Open your eyes wide.

Thank you, grammar kings and queens. You guys motivate me to keep learning English.

  • This is one of those things for which I have a definite opinion based only on speaking (American) English for a long time -- I don't know what the grammatical analysis would come up with. We never use 'widely' in the first instance - "spread <whatever> wide" is what is used. The same is true of sentences 5/6; only 6 is ever used. Sentences 1-4 seem to me to sound OK either way, though I tend to use 2 & 4.
    – rcook
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 14:20
  • 1
    I consider (2), (4) and (6) to be more idiomatic. Also, I think a drill instructor would talk about placing the feet rather than spreading the legs (which could have unfortunate sexual implications). Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 15:06
  • Are you a drill sergeant? Or are you writing a story that features one?
    – James K
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


Adjectives can be used instead of adverbs of manner when they function as object complements. The adjective then does not describe how the action is performed but the result, that is, what the object looks like after the action is carried out. We thus have:

  • paint the wall white (the wall is white after being painted)
  • force the safe open (the safe is open after being forced)
  • push the door shut (the door is shut after being pushed)

As rcook said in the comment, both (5) and (6) are fine because "widely" can describe the manner of opening and "wide" can be used to refer to the extent your eyes are open as a result.

I also agree that (2) and (4) are better than (1) and (3) because, as a rule, we first mention the dimension and then the magnitude. Just as we have:

  • X years old
  • X cm long
  • X m wide

we have:

  • X cm apart

As regards your first pair of sentences:

a. Spread your legs as wide as your shoulders.

b. Spread your legs as widely as your shoulders.

since you cannot spread your shoulders in any possible way because their structure is fixed, reference can only be made to the result of the spreading: spread your legs so that they are as far apart as the width between your shoulders.

Both "wide" and "widely" could be used if both terms in the comparison could be moved, and in that case reference could be made to the result or to the extent of spreading:

  • Spread your legs as wide as your elbows (are).
  • Spread your legs as widely as (you spread) your elbows.

Elbows and legs


I know this question is old, but I feel like adding my 2 cents worth. I would omit the word wide. It could cause a heated adjective vs adverb debate. Should you be using the adjective here instead of the adverb? Let me explain why I say this. Adverbs and adjectives have similar functions, so they are easy to confuse. Both of these types of words modify other words and help with describing or identifying.

Adjectives only modify nouns and pronouns. Remember, a noun is a person, place, or thing. Adjectives include words about color, size, shape, and state.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They often answer the questions: how, where, when, why, and to what extent. Adverbs often end in -ly, but not always.

With this in mind, I will opt for bullet 6, but wait, I said omit. So the final sentence. If you want to keep the word, wide, then use:

  1. Open your legs wide open.

If you omit the word, wide, you can use:

  1. Open your legs in line with your shoulder. Or,
  2. Open your legs to lineup with your shoulders.
  • What???!!! You're saying "Find another way of saying this because people are going to argue about which it should be"? That is not useful or helpful advice. And your characterisation of adjectives is inadequate: see @Gustavson's reply. "Spread your legs as wide as your shoulders" is perfectly normal English.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 18:17

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