Usually, our Word Choice posts cover homophones (i.e., words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings). On this occasion, however, we’re almost looking at two variations of the same word: extent and extend.
Both terms relate to the scope, length, or degree of something, but one is a noun and the other is a verb. Confusing them in your written work can, thus, affect its clarity. As such, in this post, we are looking at how to use them.
Extent (The Length or Degree of Something)
“Extent” is a noun meaning “the length or degree of something.” In a physical sense, this refers to the size or spatial dimensions of something:
The extent of the reserve is clearly shown on the map.
In a non-physical sense, it refers to the significance or scope of something:
We weren’t prepared for the extent of the damage caused.
In both cases, though, “extent” is always a thing rather than an action.
Extend (To Stretch Out or Enlarge)
“Extend” is a verb, so it describes an action. In a physical sense, “extend” can mean stretch out or place something at full length:
Extending her arm, Sarah plucked an apple from the tree.
In a non-physical sense, “extend” can refer to enlarging the scope of something. For instance:
These results justify extending the project to new populations.
Or it can mean increasing the length of time over which something occurs:
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To ensure safety, we will extend the testing period for three months.
Finally, it can be used to make a formal offer:
In thanks for your assistance, I’d like to extend an invitation to the book launch.
In all cases, though, to “extend” something is an action.
Extent to Which or Extend to Which?
When referring to the degree to which something applies, people sometimes write that something is true to a greater or lesser “extend,” or say they’re investigating “the extend to which” something is true.
However, this use of “extend” is incorrect.
As set out above, “extend” is a verb. And since the degree of something is a thing, not an action, the correct term will always be “extent” in such cases:
To a great extent, psychological explanations are satisfactory.
This essay explores the extent to which consumers value designer labels.
Summary: Extent or Extend?
These words look similar on paper, but each has its own use:
Extent is a noun that refers to the length or degree of something.
Extend is a verb meaning stretch out, enlarge, increase, or offer.
And if you’d like any more help with the word choice in your writing, our proofreaders are always happy to help you ensure your writing is error free!