Intermediate+ Word of the Day: narrow

narrow (adjective, verb) /ˈnæroʊ/ LISTEN

A narrow street

Narrow is an adjective that means ‘small in width’ or ‘limited in extent.’ In reference to a person or to someone’s mind or ideas, it means ‘limited and not willing to consider others.’ It also means ‘close and with little margin for error.’ As a verb, narrow means ‘to make or become less wide,’ or ‘to limit.’

Example sentence

  • You have to go through a long, narrow hallway to get to Claudia's apartment.
  • This study was performed on only a narrow sample of people, so many scientists don't trust the results.
  • Ben is a man of narrow ideas; he won't even go on vacation because he thinks there is nothing different to see in other places.
  • It was a narrow escape, but I managed to run away from the thief.
  • The road narrowed toward the end and there was space for only one car.

Words often used with narrow

narrow down is a very common phrasal verb that means ‘to reduce the number of options in order to make a decision’. Example: “Could we narrow down the list of candidates to just the best three?”

narrow-minded is an adjective used to refer to someone who is intolerant and not willing to consider the views of others. Example: “The teacher is so narrow-minded! I suggested writing an essay for the final, but he wants to stick to the same multiple-choice test he’s always used.”

In pop culture

Listen to Glen Campbell singing “Try a Little Kindness” here. Listen out for the lyric: “If you try a little kindness, then you’ll overlook the blindness of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.”

Did you know?

Narrow is also a noun meaning ‘a narrow place’ or ‘the narrowest part of something.’ These days, it is mainly used to refer to the narrow part of a river and is usually in the plural: “George steered the boat through the narrows.”

Other forms

narrowness (noun), narrowly (adverb)


Narrow dates back to before the year 900, in the form of the Old English adjective nearu, meaning ‘narrow, constricted or limited’ as well as ‘petty,’ ‘oppressive or causing difficulty,’ or ‘strict or severe.’ It can be traced back to the West Germanic narwaz; its origin before then is uncertain, but many linguists believe it can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root (s)ner– (to turn, bend, twist or constrict). Narrow is related to the Frisian nar, the Old Saxon naru, the Middle Dutch nare and the Dutch naar (all meaning ‘narrow’), as well as the Low German naar (dismal or ghastly), the German Narbe (scar), the Norwegian norve (a clip or staple) and the Icelandic njörva– (‘narrow,’ only found in compounds). Many different forms of narrow were used in Middle English, including narow, narowe, narewe, narwe and naru, before the spelling settled on narow, and then narrow, as we know it today. As a verb, meaning ‘to force in, confine or cramp’ as well as ‘to shrink or become smaller,’ narrow also dates back to before the year 900, in the form of the Old English verb nearwian (Middle English narwen).

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