# Span vs. Length — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Maham Liaqat — Updated on April 22, 2024
Span generally refers to the extent or measure between two points or structures, often used in engineering; whereas length is a more general measurement of how long something is, applicable in various contexts.

## Key Differences

Span is typically used to describe the distance between two structural supports, such as in bridges or buildings, emphasizing the horizontal measurement between supports. Whereas, length can refer to any linear measurement from one end to another of any object or space, not necessarily supported.
In engineering, span is crucial for understanding load-bearing capacities and structural integrity, highlighting how materials behave over distances. On the other hand, length is often used more broadly in various fields like mathematics, physics, and everyday measurements, indicating the size or extent of an object.
The term span can also metaphorically refer to the extent of an intangible thing, such as a time period or a scope of work. Whereas length can similarly be metaphorical but is more often associated with tangible, physical measurements.
When calculating or planning construction projects, span is a critical factor in determining the types of materials and designs used. On the other hand, length is a fundamental dimension that might influence material quantity but not always material choice.
Span often involves considerations of force and flexibility within various points, impacting overall design and functionality. In contrast, length is a straightforward measure and generally does not imply structural dynamics or forces at play.

## Comparison Chart

### Definition

Distance between two points or structural ends
Measurement of the extent from end to end

### Usage Context

Engineering, architecture
General measurement, various fields

Size, dimension

### Associated Terms

Beam span, bridge span
Meter, feet, miles

### Measurement Considerations

Critical in design and safety
Fundamental in descriptions and calculations

## Compare with Definitions

#### Span

The full extent from one side to another.
The span of the bridge measures 150 feet.

#### Length

A piece of something long and narrow.
She cut a length of ribbon for the gift.

#### Span

A unit of length based on the width of an outstretched hand.
Traditionally, a span is considered nine inches.

#### Length

A long distance.
They walked a great length to reach the village.

#### Span

A period or stretch of time.

#### Length

The state of being long.
The length of the novel makes it a challenging read.

#### Span

To extend across something.
The new cable spans the entire river.

#### Length

The measurement of something from end to end.
The length of the room is 20 feet.

#### Span

The wingtip-to-wingtip distance in birds or aircraft.
The eagle's span is impressive, reaching over eight feet.

#### Length

The extent of time something lasts.
The length of the movie was nearly three hours.

#### Span

The extent or measure of space between two points or extremities, as of a bridge or roof; the breadth.

#### Length

Length is a measure of distance. In the International System of Quantities, length is a quantity with dimension distance.

#### Span

The distance between the tips of the wings of an airplane.

#### Length

The measurement or extent of something from end to end; the greater of two or the greatest of three dimensions of an object
The fish reaches a length of 10 inches
The delta is twenty kilometres in length

#### Span

The section between two abutments or piers of a bridge.

#### Length

The amount of time occupied by something
Delivery must be within a reasonable length of time

#### Span

Something, such as a railroad trestle or bridge, that extends from one point to another.

#### Length

A piece or stretch of something
The surviving length of track
A length of brown satin

#### Span

The distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the hand is fully extended, formerly used as a unit of measure equal to about 9 inches (23 centimeters).

#### Length

An extreme to which a course of action is taken
They go to great lengths to avoid the press

A period of time
A span of life.

#### Length

The distance from the batsman at which a well-bowled ball pitches
Lewis tended to bowl short of a length

#### Span

(Nautical) A stretch of rope made fast at either end.

#### Length

(in bridge or whist) the number of cards of a suit held in one's hand, especially when five or more
To open one heart with equal length in hearts and spades is in the modern Acol style

#### Span

A pair of animals, such as oxen, matched as in size or color and driven as a team.

#### Length

The state, quality, or fact of being long. See Usage Note at strength.

#### Span

To extend across in space or time
A bridge that spans the gorge.
A career that spanned 40 years.

#### Length

The measurement of the extent of something along its greatest dimension
The length of the boat.

#### Span

To encircle or cover with the hand or hands.

#### Length

A piece, often of a standard size, that is normally measured along its greatest dimension
A length of cloth.

#### Span

To measure in spans.

#### Length

A measure used as a unit to estimate distances
Won the race by a length.

#### Span

A past tense of spin.

#### Length

Extent or distance from beginning to end
The length of a novel.
The length of a journey.

#### Span

The full width of an open hand from the end of the thumb to the end of the little finger used as an informal unit of length.

#### Length

The amount of time between specified moments; the duration
The length of a meeting.

#### Span

Any of various traditional units of length approximating this distance, especially the English handspan of 9 inches forming ⅛ fathom and equivalent to 22.86 cm.

#### Length

Often lengths Extent or degree to which an action or policy is carried
Went to great lengths to prove his point.

#### Span

(by extension) A small space or a brief portion of time.
He has a short attention span and gets bored within minutes.

#### Length

The duration of a vowel.

#### Span

A portion of something by length; a subsequence.

#### Length

The duration of a syllable.

#### Span

The spread or extent of an arch or between its abutments, or of a beam, girder, truss, roof, bridge, or the like, between supports.

#### Length

The vertical extent of a garment. Often used in combination
Knee-length.
Floor-length.

#### Span

The length of a cable, wire, rope, chain between two consecutive supports.

#### Length

The distance measured along the longest dimension of an object.

#### Span

(nautical) A rope having its ends made fast so that a purchase can be hooked to the bight; also, a rope made fast in the center so that both ends can be used.

Duration.

#### Span

A pair of horses or other animals driven together; usually, such a pair of horses when similar in color, form, and action.

#### Length

(horse racing) The length of a horse, used to indicate the distance between horses at the end of a race.

#### Span

(mathematics) The space of all linear combinations of something.

#### Length

(mathematics) Distance between the two ends of a line segment.

#### Span

(computing) The time required to execute a parallel algorithm on an infinite number of processors, i.e. the shortest distance across a directed acyclic graph representing the computation steps.

#### Length

(cricket) The distance down the pitch that the ball bounces on its way to the batsman.

#### Span

Wingspan of a plane or bird

#### Length

(figuratively) Total extent.
The length of a book

#### Span

(transitive) To extend through the distance between or across.
The suspension bridge spanned the canyon.

#### Length

Part of something that is long; a physical piece of something.
A length of rope

#### Span

(transitive) To extend through (a time period).
The parking lot spans three acres.
The novel spans three centuries.

#### Length

(theatre) A unit of script length, comprising 42 lines.

#### Span

(transitive) To measure by the span of the hand with the fingers extended, or with the fingers encompassing the object.
To span a space or distance; to span a cylinder

#### Length

(bridge) The number of cards held in a particular suit.

#### Span

(mathematics) To generate an entire space by means of linear combinations.

#### Length

(obsolete) To lengthen.

#### Span

To be matched, as horses.

#### Length

The longest, or longer, dimension of any object, in distinction from breadth or width; extent of anything from end to end; the longest line which can be drawn through a body, parallel to its sides; as, the length of a church, or of a ship; the length of a rope or line.

#### Span

(transitive) To fetter, as a horse; to hobble.

#### Length

A portion of space or of time considered as measured by its length; - often in the plural.
Large lengths of seas and shores.
The future but a length behind the past.

#### Span

The space from the thumb to the end of the little finger when extended; nine inches; eighth of a fathom.

#### Length

The quality or state of being long, in space or time; extent; duration; as, some sea birds are remarkable for the length of their wings; he was tired by the length of the sermon, and the length of his walk.

#### Span

Hence, a small space or a brief portion of time.
Yet not to earth's contracted spanThy goodness let me bound.
Life's but a span; I'll every inch enjoy.

#### Length

A single piece or subdivision of a series, or of a number of long pieces which may be connected together; as, a length of pipe; a length of fence.

#### Span

The spread or extent of an arch between its abutments, or of a beam, girder, truss, roof, bridge, or the like, between its supports.

#### Length

Detail or amplification; unfolding; continuance as, to pursue a subject to a great length.
May Heaven, great monarch, still augment your blissWith length of days, and every day like this.

#### Span

A rope having its ends made fast so that a purchase can be hooked to the bight; also, a rope made fast in the center so that both ends can be used.

#### Length

Distance.
He had marched to the length of Exeter.

#### Span

A pair of horses or other animals driven together; usually, such a pair of horses when similar in color, form, and action.

To lengthen.

#### Span

To measure by the span of the hand with the fingers extended, or with the fingers encompassing the object; as, to span a space or distance; to span a cylinder.
My right hand hath spanned the heavens.

#### Length

The linear extent in space from one end to the other; the longest horizontal dimension of something that is fixed in place;
The length of the table was 5 feet

#### Span

To reach from one side of to the order; to stretch over as an arch.
The rivers were spanned by arches of solid masonry.

#### Length

Continuance in time;
The ceremony was of short duration
He complained about the length of time required

#### Span

To fetter, as a horse; to hobble.

#### Length

The property of being the extent of something from beginning to end;
The editor limited the length of my article to 500 words

#### Span

To be matched, as horses.

#### Length

Size of the gap between two places;
The distance from New York to Chicago
He determined the length of the shortest line segment joining the two points

#### Span

The complete duration of something;
The job was finished in the span of an hour

#### Length

A section of something that is long and narrow;
A length of timber
A length of tubing

#### Span

The distance or interval between two points

#### Span

Two items of the same kind

#### Span

A unit of length based on the width of the expanded human hand (usually taken as 9 inches)

#### Span

A structure that allows people or vehicles to cross an obstacle such as a river or canal or railway etc.

#### Span

The act of sitting or standing astride

#### Span

To cover or extend over an area or time period;
Rivers traverse the valley floor
The parking lot spans 3 acres
The novel spans three centuries

## Common Curiosities

#### What are common units of length?

Common units include meters, feet, and inches.

#### What is the primary difference between span and length?

Span specifically refers to the distance between two structural supports or points, often in engineering contexts, while length is a general measurement of how long something is.

#### How is span calculated in construction?

Span is calculated by measuring the horizontal distance between two supports, considering load and structural requirements.

#### Is span always a physical measurement?

No, span can also describe non-physical extents, such as the span of an event or project.

#### How does understanding span help in bridge construction?

Understanding span in bridge construction helps engineers determine the necessary engineering solutions and materials to ensure stability and durability based on the distance between supports.

#### Can the concept of span apply to software projects?

Yes, in software projects, span can refer to the duration or scope of tasks required to complete a project phase or the entire project.

#### Can span and length be used interchangeably?

Not typically; span is used in more specific contexts relating to structures or time periods, whereas length is universally applicable.

#### What are some examples of span in architecture?

In architecture, span often refers to the distance between two pillars or the width of a building space that is bridged by a beam or arch.

#### How does span relate to load-bearing calculations?

Span is directly related to load-bearing calculations as it helps determine how much weight a beam or arch can support without compromising structural integrity.

#### What tools are used to measure length?

Common tools for measuring length include rulers, measuring tapes, laser measures, and for larger distances, odometers or GPS-based devices.

#### Why is length important in everyday measurements?

Length is crucial in everyday measurements for tasks such as buying fabric, measuring spaces for furniture, or assessing the distance covered in travel, providing practical and necessary information.

#### What is the significance of the term "span" in digital communication?

In digital communication, "span" can refer to the coverage area of a network or the reach of a broadcast signal, indicating the extent of service or signal distribution.

#### How do you measure the span of a river?

The span of a river is typically measured from one bank to the opposite bank at the narrowest or specified point, often using tools like measuring tapes or laser distance meters.

#### Is there a mathematical relationship between span and length?

While span and length are conceptually different, mathematically, both are measured in linear units; however, span often involves additional engineering calculations related to forces and support.

#### In what contexts might length be a more critical measurement than span?

Length is more critical in contexts like tailoring, room layout planning, and when preparing materials for projects where precise end-to-end measurements are essential.

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