Author Topic: A recurrent misuse of ‘between’  (Read 6992 times)

Joe Carillo

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A recurrent misuse of ‘between’
« on: September 19, 2009, 12:44:04 AM »
One grammar error I frequently encounter in my work as a copy editor is the misuse of the preposition “between” in the sense of setting the limits or endpoints of a range. This usage of “between” being so basic in English (as in “between you and me” and “between heaven and earth”), I used to think that getting it wrong was simply due to oversight by the writer or to what we might charitably call a typing error. But over the past three years or so, my coming across this grammar transgression much too often has convinced me that there’s actually more to the problem than meets the eye.


Consider the following sentences (I have changed some particulars to protect the identity of the writers): “Putting up a water refilling station requires an initial capital outlay of anywhere between P600,000 to P1.1 million.” “Plain chocolate contains between 30 percent to 70 percent cocoa solids.” “Each shop can carry between 1,000 to 1,800 items, with groceries comprising the bulk of its sales.” “The tunnel provided the perfect setting for the locals, who could only go partying between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. because of the curfew.” “The estimated investment recovery period for the restaurant is between one to three years.” “His distributorship moves between 1,000 to 2,500 units a month.”

In all of the six “between”-using sentences above, of course, the grammatically acceptable usage is not “between _______ to_______” but “between _______ and _______” instead: “Putting up a water refilling station requires an initial capital outlay of anywhere between P600,000 and P1.1 million.” “Plain chocolate contains between 30 percent and 70 percent cocoa solids.” “Each shop can carry between 1,000 and 1,800 items, with groceries comprising the bulk of its sales.” “The tunnel provided the perfect setting for the locals, who could only go partying between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. because of the curfew.” “The estimated investment recovery period for the restaurant is between one and three years.” “His distributorship moves between 1,000 and 2,500 units a month.” This is because in all of the six sentences, the “between”-phrase is describing not the range itself but a point somewhere within that range.

Now, for those who’d rather use “to” because they feel queasy using “and” as go-between for the endpoints of the range, there’s a perfectly acceptable alternative: get rid of “between” and replace it with the preposition “from,” and, if possible, get rid of “from” itself afterwards. The original five sentences will then read as follows: “Putting up a water refilling station requires an initial capital outlay of anywhere from P600,000 to P1.1 million.” “Plain chocolate contains from 30 percent to 70 percent cocoa solids.” “Each shop can carry 1,000 to 1,800 items, with groceries comprising the bulk of its sales.” “The tunnel provided the perfect setting for the locals, who could only go partying from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. because of the curfew.” “The estimated investment recovery period for the restaurant is one to three years.” “His distributorship moves 1,000 to 2,500 units a month.”

Note that the third, fifth and sixth sentences above did away with “from” and are none the worse for it. In all six sentences, though, it’s clear that the phrase at hand is describing not a particular point within that range but the range itself.

There’s one other thing to make sure of when converting an erroneous “between _______ to _______” phrase to a “from _______ to _______” phrase in which the endpoints are dates: don’t change the “to” to a hyphen. When correcting, say, “The business flourished between 1995 to 2007, then floundered during the 2008 economic meltdown,” avoid reconstructing the sentence as “The business flourished from 1995-2007, then floundered during the 2008 economic meltdown.” For clarity and elegance in construction, always spell out the “to”: “The business flourished from 1995 to 2007, then floundered during the 2008 economic meltdown.”

From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, November 15, 2008 issue © 2008 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
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« Last Edit: January 11, 2018, 10:30:34 PM by Joe Carillo »

renzphotography

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Re: A recurrent misuse of ‘between’
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2009, 09:05:46 AM »

I agree with you completely dear moderator however allow me to add a little bit. From what I understand the word "between" can be used under the following circumstances:

(1) When comparing two dissimilar and/or distinct things 
"I felt as if I was made to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea", "I was left to choose between the red and the blue car"; and,

(2) When comparing two opposite extremes
"That dispenser gives you a choice between hot and cold water".

Notice that in both cases switching the objects will not alter the meaning therefore the comparison does not suggest any form of order or consequence.

In contrast, the use of "from..to" connotes a form of order or consequence where the object is constant while a parameter has changed.

Let me illustrate:

(1) Ascending order
"The price of gasoline rose from P30 to P40 per liter" (here gasoline remains the object although the parameter--price--has changed);

(2) Descending order
"The stock index plummeted from 2190 yesterday to 1700 after closing today";

(3) Deterioration
"The recent development changed the picture from bad to worse";

(4) Improvement
"From slum dwelling to uptown mansions, his dramatic success is evident in his way of living";

(5) Range
"The chapter runs from page 12 to 30";

(In all five examples above altering the sequence of the two objects will change the meaning.)

Another difference comes in the number of objects involved. In the use of "from..to" it is quite indefinite but in the use of "between" we stick to two objects only.

"From the heights of the mountains to the depths of the sea to the thick of the jungle to the vast of the desert to the blue of the sky yonder to the greens of rice fields, I will seek thee."







Joe Carillo

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Re: A recurrent misuse of ‘between’
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2009, 12:43:10 PM »

(In all five examples above altering the sequence of the two objects will change the meaning.)

Another difference comes in the number of objects involved. In the use of "from..to" it is quite indefinite but in the use of "between" we stick to two objects only.

"From the heights of the mountains to the depths of the sea to the thick of the jungle to the vast of the desert to the blue of the sky yonder to the greens of rice fields, I will seek thee."


Your explanation for the other uses of "between" is simply great! It's a terrific eye-opener and I agree with it in every respect except for the statement that "in the use of 'between' we stick to two objects only."

This is what my digital Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary says about that particular aspect of the use of "between":

usage There is a persistent but unfounded notion that between can be used only of two items and that among must be used for more than two. Between has been used of more than two since Old English; it is especially appropriate to denote a one-to-one relationship, regardless of the number of items. It can be used when the number is unspecified  <economic cooperation between nations>, when more than two are enumerated  <between you and me and the lamppost>  <partitioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia — Nathaniel Benchley>, and even when only one item is mentioned (but repetition is implied)  <pausing between every sentence to rap the floor — George Eliot>. Among is more appropriate where the emphasis is on distribution rather than individual relationships  <discontent among the peasants>. When among is automatically chosen for more than two, English idiom may be strained  <a worthy book that nevertheless falls among many stools — John Simon>  <the author alternates among mod slang, cliches and quotes from literary giants — A. H. Johnston>.

 

renzphotography

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Re: A recurrent misuse of ‘between’
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2009, 07:47:21 PM »

I must admit that I too am under the impression that the use of 'between' should be confined to two things. Your revelation to the contrary is quite surprising. Frankly I think I will take your recommendation but when people ask me where I got that notion I will point to you alright. :D

By the way, I thought I saw you in Glorietta this afternoon so I approached you and tried to introduce myself. Lo and behold it was Fred dela Rosa!  :D

Honestly, I don't remember how you look anymore. Why not consider posting a photograph of you (preferably a recent one and no baby pictures please).