See more synonyms for span on
  1. the distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the little finger when the hand is fully extended.
  2. a unit of length corresponding to this distance, commonly taken as 9 inches (23 cm).
  3. a distance, amount, piece, etc., of this length or of some small extent: a span of lace.
  4. Civil Engineering, Architecture.
    1. the distance between two supports of a structure.
    2. the structure so supported.
    3. the distance or space between two supports of a bridge.
  5. the full extent, stretch, or reach of anything: a long span of memory.
  6. Aeronautics. the distance between the wing tips of an airplane.
  7. a limited space of time, as the term or period of living: Our span on earth is short.
  8. Mathematics. the smallest subspace of a vector space that contains a given element or set of elements.
verb (used with object), spanned, span·ning.
  1. to measure by the hand with the thumb and little finger extended.
  2. to encircle with the hand or hands, as the waist.
  3. to extend over or across (a section of land, a river, etc.).
  4. to provide with something that extends over: to span a river with a bridge.
  5. to extend or reach over (space or time): a memory that spans 90 years.
  6. Mathematics. to function (in a subspace of a vector space) as a span.
  7. Archery. to bend (the bow) in preparation for shooting.

Origin of span

before 900; (noun) Middle English spanne, sponne, spayn, Old English span(n), spon(n); cognate with German Spanne, Dutch span, Old Norse spǫnn; (v.) Middle English spaynen, derivative of the noun


verb Archaic.
  1. a simple past tense of spin. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for spanned

traverse, cover, cross, extend, connect, bridge, reach, range, link, vault, arch, ford

Examples from the Web for spanned

Contemporary Examples of spanned

Historical Examples of spanned

  • Headquarters were in the village across the river, spanned by a covered bridge.

    The Long Roll

    Mary Johnston

  • Brownsville had the first bridge that spanned the Monongahela River.

  • With thumb and forefinger I could have spanned the distance between Soissons and Laon.

    High Adventure

    James Norman Hall

  • The continent had been spanned; the objective had been attained.

    The American Empire

    Scott Nearing

  • Below them lay the Crazy Woman, spanned by the Double-draw bridge.

    Laramie Holds the Range

    Frank H. Spearman

British Dictionary definitions for spanned


  1. the interval, space, or distance between two points, such as the ends of a bridge or arch
  2. the complete duration or extentthe span of his life
  3. psychol the amount of material that can be processed in a single mental actapprehension span; span of attention
  4. short for wingspan
  5. a unit of length based on the width of an expanded hand, usually taken as nine inches
verb spans, spanning or spanned (tr)
  1. to stretch or extend across, over, or around
  2. to provide with something that extends across or aroundto span a river with a bridge
  3. to measure or cover, esp with the extended hand

Word Origin for span

Old English spann; related to Old Norse sponn, Old High German spanna


  1. a team of horses or oxen, esp two matched animals

Word Origin for span

C16 (in the sense: yoke): from Middle Dutch: something stretched, from spannen to stretch; see span 1


  1. archaic, or dialect a past tense of spin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for spanned



"distance between two objects," Old English span "distance between the thumb and little finger of an extended hand," probably related to Middle Dutch spannen "to join, fasten" (see span (n.2)).

The Germanic word was borrowed into Medieval Latin as spannus, hence Italian spanna, Old French espanne, French empan. As a measure of length, roughly nine inches. Meaning "length of time" first attested 1590s; that of "space between abutments of an arch, etc." is from 1725. Meaning "maximum lateral dimension of an aircraft" is first recorded 1909. Attention span is recorded from 1922.



"two animals driven together," 1769, from Dutch span, from spannen "to stretch or yoke," from Middle Dutch spannen, cognate with Old English spannen "to join" (see span (v.)).



Old English spannen "to clasp, fasten, stretch, span," from Proto-Germanic *spanwanan (cf. Old Norse spenna, Old Frisian spanna, Middle Dutch spannen, Old High German spannan, German spannen), from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" (cf. Latin pendere "to hang, to cause to hang," pondus "weight" (the weight of a thing measured by how much it stretches a cord), pensare "to weigh, consider;" Greek ponein "to toil;" Lithuanian spendziu "lay a snare;" Old Church Slavonic peti "stretch, strain," pato "fetter," pina "I span;" Old English spinnan "to spin;" for other cognates, see spin (v.)). The meaning "to encircle with the hand(s)" is from 1781; in the sense of "to form an arch over (something)" it is first recorded 1630s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with spanned


see spick and span.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.