True and False Ranges

By Maeve Maddox

The combination from…to is often used to express a range of extremes, for example, “the prices ranged from $1 to $20.”

A “true range” requires a set of objects, persons, topics, or attributes in a limited set. Here are examples of the words from…to used to express measurable ranges:

McDowell Mountain Regional Park has more than 50 miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails, ranging from easy to strenuous and ranging from 0.5 mile to 15.4 miles. 

Childhood is the age span ranging from birth to adolescence.

[Carpenter ants] are large ants ranging in size from one-quarter inch for a worker ant to up to three-quarters inch for a queen.

The course in novel writing covered everything from outlining to publication.

Birth injuries range from mild to severe.

A “false range” links disparate items that do not belong in any kind of mutual set. For example:

The topics will range from current events in the world and community, to self-expression and topics chosen by the students. 

The movie has everything from comedy to love. 

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[My list of favorites] has everything from “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” to “Zinc Oxide and You” to “A Fistful of Yen.”

Galileo’s offers everything from luscious wines to generous portions of your favorite Italian inspired food. 

Festival has everything from a cake decorating to crocheted peanuts to jousting

Such use of false ranges is ubiquitous. The usage rarely causes confusion in the reader, but it does reflect lazy thinking.

Avoiding false ranges is easy.

If you are not writing about the extremes of a set–like money or ages, or steps in a process–don’t use the word range or the phrase “everything from…to…”

Instead, use other words or expressions:

The topics will encompass current events in the world and community, self-expression, and additional subjects chosen by the students. 

The movie includes comedy and a love story. 

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[My list of favorites] includes “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble,” “Zinc Oxide and You,” and “A Fistful of Yen.”

Galileo’s offers luscious wines and generous portions of your favorite Italian-inspired food. 

Festival features a variety of competitions that include cake decorating, peanut crocheting, and jousting.

Note: The error of the false range is especially jarring when it contains more than two items: “[Joe’s Place] offers everything from pizza to rack of lamb, to potato pancakes, to meatloaf.”

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16 Responses to “True and False Ranges”

  • Rich Wheeler

    Writers use false ranges when they wish to convey variety without naming every element in the set. The corrections need to retain that sense of variety.

    “The movie includes comedy and a love story” implies that the movie has only those two elements. A wording more consistent with the intended meaning might be, “The movie includes a variety of elements, of which comedy and romance stand out.”

    The author must have some motive for mentioning comedy and “love.” Correcting the sentence teases out a bit more meaning, and can make reading more interesting. Note that I corrected poor word choice by substituting romance for love.

    “Galileo’s offers luscious wines and generous portions of your favorite Italian-inspired food” does the same thing. A better wording might be, “Galileo’s offers a variety of delights such as luscious wines and generous portions of your favorite Italian-inspired food.”

    The authors of most of the example sentences fall into the trap of using false ranges when they use the excessively inclusive “everything.” The movie has everything? Well, I hope somebody reports it because snuff porn is illegal. Galileo’s offers everything? Really? I’d love to see the waitperson’s face when I order tempura gerbil.

  • Rich Wheeler

    BTW, I had never heard of false and true ranges. Cool. Thanks!

  • Julian Barker

    I’m with Rich on this. The original description of the film implies that it contains more than just comedy and love. It implies a range of subjects: comedy, love, and everything in between, And there, of course, we have the problem; it’s a “false range”, there is no range of subjects bounded by the extremes “comedy” and “love”.
    Similarly with the list of favourites. The point is not merely that it includes these three titles, but that it includes such disparate titles as these examples
    In both cases we do need some construction that implies a broad variety, without implying a broad range. The “Festival” example works best in this regard.

  • Joe

    In formal writing the ‘from…to’ structure introduces an ambiguity to some subjects: does the range end at the last item mentioned, say, a date, implicitly excluding that date, or does the range progress through the last item?

    ‘I agree to sell you widgets from January 1 to January 7’ can mean that the sale ends with the last moment of January 6.

    To avoid such an ambiguity in formal expressions, it seems that ‘to’ in ‘from…to’ should not be used if ‘until’ or ‘through’ can be used for clarity; ‘from today until next week’ and ‘from 5 oz through 10 oz.’

  • Maeve

    Rich,
    Good points and improved revisions of the original examples.

    Thanks.

  • Kevin Puffer

    I very much enjoy reading your articles and have learned very much from your comprehensive coverage of English. One might say you cover proper use of the English language from soup to nuts. Although technically a false range, “from soup to nuts” implies “the whole” or “from start to finish” by using the metaphor of a dinner; soup being served first and nuts last. As I was reading your article, it occurred to me that some uses of the phrase “everything from…to…” seem to be poetic, metaphorically using one set containing variety to represent a similar variety of things within the subject group. Likewise, sometimes false ranges are used to demonstrate extremes within a group. My memory fails me for examples, but I’m sure you’ll get all sorts of responses from comic to sardonic. Thanks for a thought-provoking article. I appreciate your work.

  • ApK

    I agree with Kevin. These “false ranges” (a term I too have never heard) when used correctly, convey a “spectrum” or “range” of options.

    If saying the event will “encompass a wide range of topics” is OK (and I think it is) than expressing that AS a range, with the stated examples illustrating how varied the offerings are, hardly seems wrong.

    It is interesting how the use of thee or more elements is indeed jarring. I think it’s because, rather than merely conveying the metaphor of a range, it purports to list a TRUE range, as if thoise items need to be in that prescribed order for some reason.

    Also, you would jarringly break the metaphor if the stated example did not sufficiently illustrate variety or difference, as is often done for comedic or sarcastic effect:
    “We have a wide range of menu choices, from roasted chicken to baked chicken.”

  • Precise Edit

    I agree that false ranges reflect mental laziness, and they leave out implied, but unknown, information. For example, if the range is from comedy to love, what concepts are between comedy and love? The sentence implies that something is there, but what? Without the other information, the from…to construction is meaningless.

    Better options include “include such features as,” “including,” “such as,” and “and.” With these terms, we know some featured details, and we know that these details are only part of a larger set.

  • Precise Edit

    From soup to nuts-maybe not a false range. Soup was once the first course of a meal, and nuts finished the meal, so the phrase accurately describes a range, from first to last or beginning to end, as in all inclusive.

  • Maeve

    Re: from soup to nuts
    In an early draft, I had “from soup to nuts” as an example of a “true range.”

  • Curtis

    Joe wrote:
    “In formal writing the ‘from…to’ structure introduces an ambiguity to some subjects: does the range end at the last item mentioned, say, a date, implicitly excluding that date, or does the range progress through the last item?”

    This can be clarified by specifying the range as ‘inclusive’ or ‘exclusive’ of those items. Alternately, one might write, ‘from midnight January 12th to midnight January 14th’.

  • thebluebird11

    I definitely agree with Rich Wheeler’s first post; there are better ways of expressing what Maeve terms false ranges. LMAO @ tempura gerbil, although who knows…might find it somewhere…
    Also agree with Precise Edit, that false ranges do reflect mental laziness, like that junk drawer most of us have in the kitchen…anything can go in it. I never really thought about it that way, and I always thought that it was MY problem if I didn’t understand the range that was presented.

  • ApK

    Hmm. I’m alone in my appreciation for false ranges, so far, eh?

    Let me reflect further….

    Perhaps they only work when there is true range implied?
    I agree that “from comedy to love” is not a great example, but “comedy to horror” suggests a range of seriousness from the laughable to the frighteningly intense.

    Maybe I think food choices ranging “from cookies to caviar” imply the range of common to rare, or pedestrian to gourmet, or sweet to salty, or cheap to expensive, or some other such real range.

    Even the example “Festival has everything from a cake decorating to crocheted peanuts to jousting,” which is more of strecth to come up with any true range behind it, seems to me to effectivly communicate the range of activities one might associate with different kinds of festivals, from the more passive and homey food fairs, to the more active and enthusiast-oriented ren fairs.

    I can’t see them as lazy when they serve to communicate the intent effectively.

  • Cygnifier

    This brings to mind Dorothy Parker’s remark about Katharine Hepburn’s performance running “the gamut from A to B” (a remark she later said she regretted making).

    I’m with ApK. These “false” ranges, to me, don’t seem to me to be lazy (at least for the ones that feel like they work). They seem to convey diversity in ways that are far more interesting than “a variety of elements, including…,” which just seems boring. Some of them even feel poetic.

  • venqax

    I agree with the assertion that using “range” implies that something is scalar in some way, or resembles a spectrum, as opposed to maybe using “variety” that implies multiple independent things.

    So, using car trims as an example, you could have a range of options from bare-bones and no frills, to completely “tricked out”. But to say you can have interiors that range from cloth to leather, or that the car comes in a range of colors is rather sloppy. What is between leather and cloth? Vinyl? Fake leather? And unless you are using color in a technical or scientific sense (e.g. color wheel, light spectrum) there is no ordinal arrangement of colors to constitute a range.

  • apk

    “Cloth to leather” would certainly be wrong if those were the only choices, but if there were indeed options between those two extremes of cost, or comfort, then it would make sense. “A range of colors” on the other hand is properly evocative of a rainbow or other array of colors from light to dark or pale to bright or subdued to garish, or any if various other true ranges, to suggest that whatever your taste, there is something to please you.

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