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I am doing multiple-choice tests and this is the exercise I am facing at the moment:

I can see that there is some rot in the wood, but I need to remove the plaster to check the A) rank B) extent C) degree D) grade of damage.

According to the answer key, the correct one here is extent. However, websites like ludwig.guru show me that the phrase works perfectly with degree as well.

Is this a case of people using the phrase even though it is not idiomatic?

2 Answers 2

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To answer the title question, the difference between extent and degree in this situation is:

  • Extent refers to the area affected: how much of the wood is damaged?
  • Degree refers to the severity of the damage: How rotten has the wood become?

The reason why extent is the correct word to use in this situation is that we don't really care how rotten the wood is; if it's rotten at all, it needs to be replaced. We just need to know the area affected so that we can fix the entire problem.

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"extent of (the) damage" is a set phrase, as shown by the Oxford Collocations Dictionary:

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"extent" conveys the idea of how far the damage (in this case, the rotting) has spread. This concept does not seem to be expressed so clearly by the term "degree".

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    Both "degree of damage" and "extent of damage" sound idiomatic to me as a native BrE speaker; this is therefore a question of why one is preferred in this particular situation, whereas this answer suggests that one is always preferred to the other. See Hellion's answer.
    – AndyT
    Jan 3, 2019 at 14:52
  • @AndyT Hellion's "area affected" is equivalent to my "how far the damage has spread".
    – Gustavson
    Jan 3, 2019 at 15:06
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    Right, but you haven't covered that "degree of damage" is an idiomatic phrase, but that it means something that isn't applicable in this particular situation. The OP is confused why he's found "degree of damage" being used elsewhere but it's apparently wrong here, I see nothing in his question indicating that he thinks "extent of damage" is wrong, and as far I can see all your answer does is say that "extent of damage" is acceptable here. hence why I think your answer is not useful.
    – AndyT
    Jan 3, 2019 at 15:12
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    @AndyT You are free to give your opinion.
    – Gustavson
    Jan 3, 2019 at 15:22
  • It's no coincidence that in insurance they never speak about "degree of damage" but about "extent of damage".
    – Gustavson
    Jan 3, 2019 at 15:31

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