Thursday, November 1, 2007

Wrangling about ranges

When you're using the construction "from X to Y," make sure it's an actual range you're talking about. A geographic range such as "from Seattle to Los Angeles" clearly has starting and ending points -- and the crucial points in between. So do the ranges "from joy to devastation" and "from head to toe."

But avoid it when you're simply listing examples. "From ham to cranberries" doesn't suggest a spectrum; it's simply two foods. Better alternatives: "such as ham and cranberries" or "including ham and cranberries."

Another logic error to avoid is listing three items in a range. A range has a start point and an end point. Not two starts or two ends. If you're expressing a range such as "from Seattle to Los Angeles," there's no need to list a point in the middle. Take the bloated "from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles." San Francisco is implied in the range -- as is every other point between Seattle and Los Angeles. If what you really wanted to do was list these three cities, then do that. "The trip covered much of the West Coast, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles."

For an excellent discussion on this topic, see Bill Walsh's post on false ranges.

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