English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is 'expanse' an acceptable synonym for 'surface'?

share|improve this question
Do you have a particular context in mind? – user1579 Mar 24 '11 at 19:30
Yeah, it can be. When it does make an appropriate synonym it would probably make a great synonym. But without context you get to decide on your own. – MrHen Mar 24 '11 at 19:36
Going by this and your other question, What is the difference between 'roof' and 'canopy'?, I cannot help but wonder if you are reading or analyzing something to do with the creation story in Genesis! – Jimi Oke Mar 24 '11 at 20:49
I am reading the Quran, I'm a Muslim... – nicholas ainsworth Mar 30 '11 at 20:20
up vote 2 down vote accepted

A surface is something that can be mapped to a flat plane, like the surface of the Earth can be viewed on a paper map.

An 'expanse' is not limited to only two dimensions. The 'expanse of the Sahara desert' is usually considered as a two-dimensional surface, but the 'expanse of space' is at least three dimensions and probably many more. The 'expanse of the Pacific ocean' can refer to the surface area only, or it can include all the volume of water that extends downward from the surface into the deepest trenches.

share|improve this answer

Surface has many (related) meanings. Expanse is synonymous to area, so it is also synonymous to surface when the latter is used in the meaning of surface area. Overall, I'd say in most contexts, expanse is not an acceptable substitution for surface.

share|improve this answer
To expand on this, expanse is generally used to refer to large areas of land. Surface, while applicable, is generally not used for this, so it's even less likely that they would be used as synonyms. – Yozomiri Mar 24 '11 at 19:33

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.