We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a "Hare's Breath"?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The phrase “hare's breath” is a malapropism which is commonly used by people who mean “a hair's breadth.” While “hare's breath” at least makes sense, other variations of this malapropism, such as “hair's breath,” are totally illogical. The confusion about this phrase reflects a common problem with homophones in the English language: because “hair” and “hare” and “breath” and “breadth” sound so similar, people sometimes mix the words up when they are writing, especially if they have never seen the phrase written out before.

Properly, the term “hair's breadth” is usually used to reference a narrow escape or a closely missed opportunity. The breadth of a hair is indeed quite small, and a hair's breadth between two objects or event would be a very narrow margin. One may also hear phrases like “came within a whisker,” in a variation on a hair's breadth. An example of the correct usage of this phrase is: “we came within a hair's breadth of winning that contract, but the other company underbid us.”

Some people attempt to defend “a hare's breath” by suggesting that it refers to something which happens very quickly, just like the breath of a rabbit. However, since all of the colloquial uses of this idiom revolve around something which almost happens, rather than something which happens very quickly, this explanation does not hold very much water, and it is probably a backformation intended to justify a common malapropism. Unless one is talking about the breathing habits of hares, “a hare's breath” is incorrect, and a “hare's breadth” would also be incorrect, unless one is using a hare as a unit of measurement, which seems unlikely.

In addition to “hair's breath,” another creative variation on this commonly misspelled idiom is “hair's breathe.” Both of these usages are nonsensical in addition to wrong, unless hair has some hitherto unknown biological properties.

For English language learners, homophones can be especially frustrating, as the existence of multiple words which sound the same but have different meanings and spellings can be very confusing. All of the variations on this idiom sound the same when they are spoken aloud, but they have very different meanings. Slipping up can be viewed as an elementary mistake by an experienced user of English, and it tends to detract from the overall quality of a written communication. Because homophones can be tricky, it is a good idea to ask someone to look over a piece of written material before publishing it or sending it to someone else, to make sure that glaring errors such as “hare's breath” or “hair's breath” do not remain.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1005032 — On Jun 05, 2021

I agree that it is just a lack of use for the archaic form of "broad" which is "breadth" (used variously in 3 dimensions as in length breadth and height). I always took the malaprop as a reference to a joke I heard in primary school, which was :

Two men are hiking when one slips and starts to fall, but catches a small shrub and ends up dangling over a cliff, possibly a fatal drop. His friend can't reach him and has no rope. The friend tells him he will try to get help. He tells his friend "Oh, if only you could find a rabbit to blow in my face!" The friend asks what good that would do. He replies "Haven't you ever heard of someone being saved by a hare's breath?"

By anon304059 — On Nov 18, 2012

It is more of a folk etymology than a malapropism, as it is based on a phonological similarity (or homonym) of the words and establishes a semantic connection as well. A malapropism would be just mixing words without any semantic connection (usually longer words from a specialized vocabulary).

By fify — On May 22, 2012

@burcidi, @alisha-- I agree with both of you. Malapropisms is one of the reasons why I read a lot. The more I read and see how things are spelled, the less room there is for mistakes.

When we use idioms that we've only heard and not read or written, we're bound to make mistakes with spellings and the use of words.

If one thinks about it though, it's so obvious that hare's breath or hair's breath isn't right. I mean hares breathe but what does that have to do with something happening or not happening by a narrow margin? A hair's breath doesn't make sense at all! It all goes down to common sense. We all have access to the internet, it takes a minute to look it up!

By discographer — On May 22, 2012

@burcidi-- Yesteday, my neighbor who is a real estate agent showed me one of his ads in the paper. It said that the house was a "hare's breath" of the lake! So you're right, this is a malapropism that anyone can make!

My neighbor is a well educated guy and I don't think he has issues with vocab or spelling. I think he made the mistake because this is not an idiom he uses a lot. It's not very common. I've probably heard it being used three or four times in my life.

Is "hair's breadth" a very old idiom? Is it American English based or British English?

By burcidi — On May 21, 2012

Not just learners of English, but people who speak English since birth make mistakes with this idiom too.

I agree with the article that the problem stems from these words sounding alike. The other issue might be people not being good with vocabulary and spelling. I think we would all agree that our language doesn't have the easiest spelling. There are no spelling rules in English which makes it difficult for young kids.

I think poor vocabulary is another reason. I just asked my cousin who is in middle school what breadth is and she had no idea that it means width. That might be why some refer to it as a hair's breath instead of hair's breadth.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.