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What is the difference between lengthen and elongate in this context (in 23)? According to the answer key, it is "lengthen". However, why can't we use elongate as well?

My research (these are the Cambridge Dictionary definitions): lengthen elongate

I believe both can work in this context, however, the authors of this CAE trainer seem to disagree.

  • 4
    I think either could be used. Elongate is a bit more formal / academic perhaps, but they seem interchangeable in this context.
    – user184130
    May 22, 2018 at 10:55
  • It's the sort of problem that should have been addressed by the editorial board. This sort of thing doesn't inspire confidence in the relevant authorities. May 22, 2018 at 11:26
  • 3
    @EdwinAshworth: Bear in mind the context. The people doing the study might reasonably have simply decided to "standardise" on lengthen / widen, for example, rather than have to deal with a range of alternatives such as elongate / broaden. And let's not forget that it's nearly always Why the long face?, not Why the elongated face? May 22, 2018 at 12:45
  • @FF The context is a test. I've a fair bit of experience with moderation. You'd mark 'elongate' wrong here? I distinctly hope that's not the case: check the Ngrams KarlG provides, and his good analysis. And a marking scheme that doesn't include / cater for all correct answers is reprehensible. They've slipped up. May 22, 2018 at 15:27
  • 1
    'Lengthen' would be to add length, so adding substance to make the thing longer. 'Elongate' is to stretch out what is already there, adding no further substance.
    – Nigel J
    May 22, 2018 at 15:30

2 Answers 2


The words lengthen and elongate are characteristic of the way the English language may have two words with virtually identical meanings: one Germanic and the other Latinate, either directly from Latin or through French.

Lengthen arose in the late 14th century from adding the factitive -en suffix often used to transform adjectives into verbs (shorten, whiten, broaden, widen). Earlier speakers had simply used the adjective as a verb: to length (to brown meat, to short an investment, to book a hotel room, to map the area).

Elongate first appears in the 1530s, as the Online Etymological Dictionary explains, from Late Latin elongatus, p.p. of elongare ‘to prolong, protract, remove to a distance’. Elongate replaced the earlier borrowing elongen (mid-15c.), formed with the same -en suffix as lengthen.

English speakers regulary apply both verbs to the human face:

When styling a rounder face, your main goal is to elongate the face and make it appear more oval.

To slim down and lengthen the face, opt for a beard that is relatively long at the chin and shorter on the cheeks.

Despite a general preference for lengthen over elongate, a Google NGram shows that the frequency difference between the two verbs with the direct object face is now insignificant:

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When the past participle is used attributively as an adjective, however, there is a strong preference for elongated:

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This would suggest that the authors of the test simply didn't think of the word elongate as they were writing the question. There are, however, no grounds, either in meaning or usage, to consider elongate an error.

This does not mean that the two verbs are complete synonyms. Elongate is not often used in a temporal sense, for example, except in an elongated stay at a hotel. And a street is extended or lengthened. But with the human face, they are.

  • Yes. To the extent that elongate implies stretching where lengthen does not, elongate is even arguably the more appropriate choice for the particular context.
    – 1006a
    May 22, 2018 at 16:34
  • Why elongate a short answer? See comment by @1006a .
    – Kris
    Jun 1, 2018 at 12:32
  • @1006a That should have been the answer. (I am visiting this Q just now.)
    – Kris
    Jun 1, 2018 at 12:33

Lengthen and elongate differ (in usage) according to what it is that is being altered or extended in a certain way. To elongate suggests a stretching or alteration that is not part of a symmetrical or proportional change. Lengthen also may be contrasted to "widen," Whereas 'elongate' in English does not seem to have a counterpart in 'making wider' in some way. Faces may indeed be 'long,' but this is a verbal expression denoting a person's facial expression, for example, in the introduction to "The Flowers of St. Francis (of Assisi)" the writer suggests that they were not intended to be read "with the long face of piety." "Lengthen" also has both a physical and temporal connotation (lengthen in time as well as physical dimension) whereas elongate typically refers to physical measurements.

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