How to Write About Ranges

How to Write About Ranges

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A range is, in written expression, the numerical difference between or among two or more values, or a pair of elements denoting the end points on, and perhaps one or more elements along, a continuum. Using sentences with errors in expressing ranges, this post discusses how to correctly do so in writing.

The school enrolls students in grades 9 – 12.

The correct treatment of a range numbers expressed in numerals is one number followed by an en dash (although some publications employ a hyphen) and another number, with no letter spaces: “The school enrolls students in grades 9–12.”

This style, with a numeral range, is correct even when a publication uses a style system in which references to numbers are usually spelled out if the number is one hundred or less. However, if the range is expressed with to (or through) instead of a dash, the numbers should, in that case, be spelled out: “The school enrolls students in grades nine to twelve.”

Operating hours are from 9 a.m.–10 p.m.

If from precedes the expression of a number range, to, rather than a dash, should intervene between the two values: “Operating hours are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.” (If a dash is preferred, delete from: “Operating hours are 9 a.m.–10 p.m.”)

Only a handful of school districts within a 30-40 mile radius rank among the top twenty-five school districts.

The solution for this example is not simply to replace the hyphen with a dash; the range must be recast as shown here: “Only a handful of school districts within a 30- to 40-mile radius rank among the top twenty-five school districts.” The expressed range is not “30–40”; it is “a 30-mile radius to 40-mile radius,” with the first value truncated to the number and a suspensive hyphenation. (This range can also be expressed “a radius of 30 to 40 miles.”)

Qualifying businesses are those with revenues of $10–$20 billion.

This sentence suggests that the low end of the range is $10, rather than $10 billion. Except in the case of suspensive hyphenation, values should be fully expressed: “Qualifying businesses are those with revenues of $10 billion–$20 billion.”

The sanctions impact the economy broadly, affecting business transactions ranging from the import of airplanes; the export of caviar, carpets, and pistachios; and the manufacturing of cars.

The sequence of phrases specifying trade and production of goods does not constitute a list; it is a range that includes three elements. From must be complemented by to, and the semicolons are extraneous and intrusive: “The sanctions impact the economy broadly, affecting business transactions ranging from the import of airplanes to the export of caviar, carpets, and pistachios and the manufacturing of cars.”

These range from restricting access for the sanctioned entity to the US financial system, to prohibitions on investing in a sanctioned entity, to restrictions on imports from the sanctioned entity, to the exclusion from the U.S. of controlling officers or controlling shareholders of a sanctioned entity.

Elements consisting of a sequence of phrases indicating a range and beginning with one element preceded by from and one or more subsequent elements preceded by to should not be interrupted by punctuation: “These sanctions range from restricting access for the sanctioned entity to the US financial system to prohibitions on investing in a sanctioned entity to restrictions on imports from the sanctioned entity to the exclusion from the United States of controlling officers or controlling shareholders of a sanctioned entity.”

If the sentence is not clear without punctuation, recast the sentence. In many cases, including the sentence used as an example here, the use of from and to as signifiers of a range is not necessary, as a given sequence may not necessarily indicate a range that implies priority of one phrase over another. (Here, the sequence does not explicitly express increasingly strict sanctions, though they may be inferred to be so.)

When this is true, simply revise the sentence to express a simple list: “These sanctions include restricting access for the sanctioned entity to the US financial system, prohibitions on investing in a sanctioned entity, restrictions on imports from the sanctioned entity, and the exclusion from the United States of controlling officers or controlling shareholders of a sanctioned entity.”

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Original post: How to Write About Ranges

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