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abreast
1: beside one another with bodies in line <columns of men five abreast>
[M-W's Col. Dic.]

Does this mean there are five columns of men where five men are standing side by side in a row?
Comments  
Yes, and any number of men in the columns.
Thank you.
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Jackson66121: beside one another with bodies in line I think the definition you quote would be best understood by someone who already understands the concept.

There don't have to be columns for the men to be standing abreast.
Of course, the dictionary entry doesn't say that there do - the bracketed phrase is just an example.

On the playground, children are told, "Line up single file." They've learned what that means.

Alternately, they're told, "Line up side by side."

Sometimes they're told, "Line up in a column," which is usually the same as "single file."

Everyone knows the expression "rank and file."
In typical parade formation, one rank is made up of a row/line of people standing side by side.
One file is made up of a row/line of people standing one-behind-the-other.

In one sense, a column is a file. But if someone says, "I saw five columns of men march by," he just might be referring to five separate groups of men, one column after the other. They might be in single file, two abreast, five abreast, etc.

AvangiOn the playground, children are told, "Line up single file." They've learned what that means.

Sometimes they're told, "Line up in a column," which is usually the same as "single file."

Would it be correct to say "Line up single column"? Perhaps, it's not idiomatic.
AvangiThey might be in single file, two abreast, five abreast, etc.
Is this correct: They might be single abreast?

Please help me.

These things are all pretty much idioms. "Single abreast" is never used. (Line up [in] single file.)

I've never heard "single column" as a compound adjective (like "single file").

We might be instructed: "Please form a single line/column/file."

In the instruction: "Line up [in] single file," the "in" is optional, at least, conversationally.

However, in multiple columns, the "in" is not used: "Please like up three abreast."
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AvangiI've never heard "single column" as a compound adjective (like "single file").
"Line up single file" - Is "single file" a compond adjective? It modifies "Line up" which is, I think, a verbial phrase? Doesn't it make "single file" an adverbial phrase?
AvangiHowever, in multiple columns, the "in" is not used: "Please like up three abreast."
I assume you meant 'line up'. In the first part you mentioned "multiple columns" and then you used "three abreast" in the example instead. What's the relationship between the two?

Please guide me.
Right. "Like" is a typo.

Right again. "Three abreast" is adverbial.

Right again. You don't have to have columns to have men standing abreast.
However, if you have twenty-one men standing around at ease in no particular formation, and you give the instruction, "Line up three-abreast," the result will be seven files (or columns).
Theoretically, the groups of three could be scattered randomly about the field, but the instruction "Line up" would be taken as meaning "one rank behind the other."
Similarly, if you said, "Form ranks of three," we'd assume you intended the ranks to be formed one behind the other.

I'm afraid I've gotten in the habit of not considering the thread title as part of the argument.
Perhaps it's because of my inclination to edit: When you edit, the thread title is no longer visible. I only just now realized that "Columns of men. . . " is the title of your thread. My bad.
Some posters frame their questions in their titles. Bad excuse!

Regards, - A.

Edit. " < columns of men five abreast > "

Out of curiosity, is this yours or MW's ?