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You are required to give an explanation (A) for your conduct (B) within two days of the receipt of this letter. (C) No error (D)

This sentence was asked in my exam under the tag of error spotting questions. Is the sentence correct? I am sceptical for part C, I googled for the phrase within two days of the receipt of this letter and found a result in Google Books where the preposition used was from instead of of, so the correct sentence should be with from instead of of. Am I correct or is it fine with of as well?

  • I don't think that's the error – if it is, it shouldn't be. You can use either from or of in this context; moreover, of seems to be more common. – J.R. Jul 17 '17 at 15:21
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The usual use of within is "within (measure) of ", and is used for both time and space. Eg Within 200 metres of the building, or within ten minutes of departure.

Having said that, in the case of time, there is an ambiguity: does it mean, "in the interval of time starting at the point", or "in the interval of time before and after the point"?* It nearly always means the first, because - as in your example question - it wouldn't make sense for it to include the time before. But sometimes people use "from" to make it completely clear.

But I would say "No error" here.

*This question became important in 2015 when some statistics were published in the UK about people dying within six weeks of having a benefit withdrawn: it turned out that the publication meant "six weeks before or after", but people interpreted as "six weeks after" - see this blog, for example.

  • I don't understand your footnote. Are you saying that thousands of people, shortly after dying, were then informed that they were fit for work? – ruakh Jul 18 '17 at 0:16
  • No. The official report said that 11 thousand people died within six weeks of being taken off the benefit. Critics interpreted that as saying that 11 thousand people had benefits removed and died shortly after. The actual meaning was the not very useful information that 11 thousand people died within six weeks before or after having the benefit removed: some of them died and their benefit was subsequently stopped. The number of those who died afterwards was apparently not collected. Critics said the confusion was deliberate. – Colin Fine Jul 18 '17 at 10:39
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To my (American) ear, the best choice is (D) "No error".

One could argue that "within two days of the receipt of this letter" should be "within two days of receipt of this letter" (without a determiner before "receipt"), or "within two days of your receipt of this letter" (with a more specific determiner before "receipt"). It is not obvious (to me) that omitting "the" changes the meaning or grammaticality of the sentence.

Replacing "the" with "your" does change the meaning of the sentence. I am not a lawyer, but it is conceivable that this change in meaning could undermine the intent of the sentence. Suppose the intended recipient claimed that someone else received the letter, and the intended recipient did not personally receive the letter until several days (or weeks) later. In this scenario, the sender of a letter with "your" would not know when the "two days" were completed.

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The sentence is fine as is and with 'from', but not with a 'to'.

In English, expressions of time are fairly wide. 'Within two days of the receipt of this letter' is perfectly fine- 'within two days from the receipt of this letter' is a bit more clunky to speak, but not (by any way I could find) technically incorrect. Both words refer to the same starting point and ending point of the receipt of the letter and two days hence.

'To' is a bit more difficult. It depends on where you want 'to' in the sentence. The only place it would make any sense at all would be as follows- 'Within two days to the receipt of this letter'. This, however, changes the entire meaning of the sentence. It has a different starting and ending point. 'To' reflects the end point, so this particular sentence refers to two days before the receipt of the letter, as the end point is established as the reception. That automatically makes the start two days prior. It is entirely changed.

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