To expound or expand (or espouse)

Due to my constant, anal-retentive mentions of the proper usage of words (when I know them), my wife suggested that I write about it. So why not? New category created.

I often hear the word “expound” used inappropriately to describe one’s commentary on an idea when “expand” is what that person really means. Occasionally, though far less often, I also hear “espouse” used when one of our other two words would be the accurate choice. So here are the rules of thumb I use to remember the difference.

Espouse

This one is too easy. With the possible exception of the hill folk, we all know that “spouse” means your husband / wife. So to espouse an idea is to marry it. Simple as that. If I speak publicly and passionately about the benefits of doll collection, then I am marrying that idea. (In case you’re interested, “despouse” is not a word, though it probably should be.)

Webster’s defines this word as:

to express support for (a cause, belief, etc.)

Expand

I imagine everyone already knows this word too. When your waistline expands, so does your belt / rope (I’m looking at you, hill people). Similarly, when you expand on an idea, you take an idea that you have already spoken about and give greater detail.

Webster’s defines this word as:

to increase in size, range, or amount : to become bigger

Expound

This is the word that most of us seem to have trouble with. It’s such an odd word and so similar to “expand” that it’s easy to confuse. To expound means to take an idea and explain it. That’s all. It’s not as daunting as it seems (alright, maybe to the hill folk).

Webster’s defines this word as:

to explain or state (something) : to give details about (something)

Summary

So I remember the difference like so: Use “expand” or “espouse” unless they’re simply inappropriate. That’s all. Pretty simple. See you next time.

Leave a Reply