Narrow vs. Thin

Narrow vs. Thin

What makes narrow and thin close in meaning, and can they sometimes be interchangeable? What can be both thin and narrow at the same time, and what idioms with these adjectives are there? Read on to know the answers…

Something that is narrow measures a very small distance from one side to the other, especially compared to its length or height:

Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 22.13.53.png– a narrow strip of land/water

– a narrow street, path, lane, passageway

– a narrow belt of trees

– narrow feet, hips, shoulders, face

– a narrow gap

– a narrow tie, sofa, table

If you describe someone’s ideas, attitudes, or beliefs as narrow, you disapprove of them because they are restricted in some way, and often ignore the more important aspects of an argument or situation:

Tom had a very narrow world view.

If you don’t mind me saying so, you have a narrow view of socialism.

You have a narrow idea of what success means.

The bishops ignored this evidence to ensure that their own narrow, out-of-the-mainstream beliefs held sway. (= were the main influence on people’s opinions or behavior)

Finally, narrow means achieved with difficulty, in a way that shows how close the result was:

Our resolution passed with the narrowest possible majority.

Republican State Senator Dan Bishop won a narrower-than-expected victory over Democrat Dan McCready.

After a narrow defeat against France last week,  it’s a must-win match against Tonga.

You’ve had a very narrow escape. (= you’ve barely avoided danger)

Danes voted by a narrow margin (= a small amount) to keep their own currency.

Something that is thin has a small distance between the top and bottom or front and back surfaces:

Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 22.39.29– a thin slice, crust

– thin noodles

– thin paper, walls, glass

– a thin line, layer

– thin lips, hair, eyelashes

– a thin strand of trees

– a thin pencil, pen

– a thin strip of land/water

Thin has many other meanings:

  1. Charles was thin and very tall. (= Charles was not fat at all, in fact, he had little fat on his body)
  2. His hair is a little thin on top / He is thin on top. (= He is losing his hair (humorous))
  3. This soup is thin but it’s great if you have dinner late. (= the soup contains a lot of water)
  4. This argument is very thin. (= it doesn’t have enough evidence or detail to be good)
  5. The air is thin. (= it has less oxygen than usual)
  6. I hate his thin smile. (= a weak smile that does not seem sincere)
  7. I hear a thin voice. (= it’s high and unpleasant to listen to)
  8. The fog was relatively thin. (= the fog was easy to see through)
  9. This sweater is too thin. (= it’s made from light cloth and is not warm enough)

CONCLUSION: Although thin and narrow definitely have something in common (see the first basic meaning of each adjective), they are not the same. However, the same thing can be considered thin or narrow. For example, Chile is a thin strip of land, but we can also say that it’s a narrow strip of land. One thin can also be both thin and narrow. For example, nails:

The nails are thin and narrow.


  1. through thick and thin – through many difficult times over a long period: We’ve been together through thick and thin. (You can also stand by someone or support them through thick and thin.)
  2. (as) thin as a rake – skinny: He eats a lot but is as thin as a rake. (more vocabulary for describing people is here; another related article: “Similes“)
  3. to have a thin skin – to be very sensitive to criticism or insults: 1) If you have a thin skin, you’ll never survive in politics. 2) It seems like they’re being a bit thin-skinned about all this. (The opposite is to have a thick skin or to be thick-skinned.)
  4. to disappear/vanish into thin air – to disappear suddenly in a mysterious way: The climbers seem to have disappeared into thin air. (The opposite is to appear from/out of thin air.)
  5. to be (skating) on thin ice – to be doing something dangerous, or something that could have an unpleasant result: You are on thin ice, boy. Be careful.
  6. to be thin on the ground – not available in large amounts or numbers: Really good specialists are thin on the ground.
  7. to wear/run thin (of patience): My patience is running/wearing thin. (= I am getting less and less patient.) If a joke or explanation wears thin, it becomes less effective because it has been used too much.
  8. the straight and narrow – the right and moral way to behave or to do something: 1) He’s making an effort to get back on the straight and narrow. 2) He has once or twice strayed from the straight and narrow.

In this article we look at the adjectives thick, wide, and also broad. If you found this one useful, you’ll also like the follow-up. Thank you for reading!

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