This is something pretty much everyone has done. The act of throwing but also holding onto a sheet or blanket or beach towel to spread it out in the air so that you can lay it flat on the bed, ground, or whatever surface. I don't think there is a word for this. Whenever I've asked this question people just zone out with a blank expression on their face. words like open, unfold, unfurl, throw, blanket just don't seem enough. In my mind, the word spread comes closest, but I feel it still isn't quite right.

  • There is a word in Greek - βολος - which conveys the casting of a small, weighted net and also conveys the casting of dice. It involves a horizontal element and is the same arm movement used in 'casting' a sheet over a bed. The Spanish word 'bolas' derives from it, triple weights on rope which are flung with the same action to bring down four footed animals. However, the word has not come into English.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 5 '19 at 15:17
  • If you want to be specific, you can say that you unfold and spread the sheet across of and on top of the bed. Otherwise, everybody knows your intended meaning if you just say throw or spread. Aug 5 '19 at 19:33
  • 1
    The best semantic fit is 'cast', which fits perfectly when cast-nets are ... er ... cast by fishermen. But pragmatically, it's so unidiomatic as to be at best highly quirky when used of sheets. 'Throwing the sheets on the bed' is perhaps the best we've got, but inevitably connotes (at best) a slapdash or at least zestful bed-making episode. Sep 4 '19 at 14:11
  • to cover works nicely
    – lbf
    Sep 4 '19 at 18:27

Spread is the most suitable word.

The Ngram Viewer doesn't find anything for unfurl or unfold a blanket, but it has many hits for spread a blanket.

By the way, the word bedspread is synonymous to blanket, which shows the suitability of the verb "spread" to talk about spreading a blanket.

  • When I first saw this answer I thought that there might be a different definition of bedspread in American English because, in British English a bedspread is definitely not a blanket but is, rather, a decorative top cover for a bed. I see that I was mistaken because Merriam Webster defines bedspread in exactly the way I understand it. What is your liguistic background, Mahmud?
    – BoldBen
    Sep 5 '19 at 1:58
  • @BoldBen I didn't say blanket is the definition of bedspread. They are synonymous each other. Many dictionaries such as Lexico, Cambridge Dictionary etc. say so. Sep 5 '19 at 3:25

A single verb can describe sequential actions whose individual descriptions are usually unnecessary in common speech, but might be employed in vivid storytelling or a work of highly mimetic fiction, especially when the sequence is interrupted.

For instance, opening a door requires an approach, reaching for the knob/handle/whatever, activating this device, stepping back while holding the knob, etc.

If something interrupts the sequence, one might say

I had just begun to open the door when …

Or in a more vivid narrative

My fingers had barely grazed the door handle when …

Spreading a sheet on a bed or a towel on the sand is a similarly sequenced action where the airborne portion usually doesn't need to be described, mainly because except in the narrative situations I mentioned, it simply isn’t topical. Thus the blank stares.

So what about vivid narrative?

The isolated action is similar to what you do after lying on the beach towel until sunburned: you shake out the towel to get rid of the sand, or if you couldn’t resist eating crumbly cookies/biscuits in bed, you’d shake out the top sheet to get rid of the results. You perform the same action on a rug held out the window or to fluff out a towel you’ve dried on a clothesline, though in these contexts, the action is usually repeated a few times. It’s a kind of whipping motion you would rarely have to describe further.

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