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I guess there are some situations where "to" is the best choice, although I can't describe what kind of that situation is.

There are three layers to the matplotlib API. src

There are three layers to the mandala... src

In these situations, it does not sound natural to substitute "in" for "to". Is my understanding correct?


In contrast, in the following situations, "in" seems more natural than "to"

A post on basketball says

There are 4 rounds to the playoffs: The divisional/first round, the Conference Semi-finals, the Conference Finals, and the NBA Finals.

I guess the word "to" there means

Composing; constituting

source: American Heritage® Dictionary

Therefore, I guess the first part of that quotation could be written as

the playoffs consist of 4 rounds

With that meaning of "to", does the following sound natural to native English speakers?

There are nine regulation innings to a baseball game

adapted from wikipedia


more examples

There are 3 parts to the IELTS Speaking section. src

2
  • Personally, I would use in, not to. I find the use of to quite awkward in this particular sentence. Apr 23 '20 at 11:12
  • 1
    A more apt usage of "to" is "How many cookies?" "Ten to a package." Apr 28 '20 at 1:09
1
+50

Your first two examples ("there are three layers to ...") correctly use "to" instead of "in". In general, the construction "there is X to Y" means "Y has/requires/takes X".

For example:

John: Playing the piano doesn't seem that hard.

Mary: Actually, there's quite a bit of skill to it.

At first I thought the movie was boring, but then I realized there were layers to the story.

You can't just show me your cards! There are rules to this game!

Reporter: You've won every medal in your sport. What's your secret?

Athlete: There's no secret to winning - it's just hard work.

From that point of view, "there are four rounds to the playoffs" isn't that weird. The NBA playoffs are a tournament, and the statement says "the tournament has/can be described as having four rounds". There are other uses of phrases like "there are N rounds to the tournament", such as in this book.

1

I would say "there are 4 rounds in the playoffs" (agree with Jason Bassford on using in not to) or "the playoffs consist of 4 rounds".

The former can have the connotation that it is still early in the playoffs (e.g., "He only scored 1 goal so far!" is answered with "It's only early yet - there are 4 rounds (in the playoffs)"). The latter can have the connotation that you are describing the format in general (say when describing the rules and how many wins it takes to advance).

Similarly - "there are nine innings in a baseball game" and "a baseball game has nine innings" I would not use "a baseball game consists of nine innings" but I would not say it is technically incorrect.

(I don't have enough points to comment yet, thus an answer).

3
  • Thank you! Is "scored 1 goal" some kind of MLB language? Does it mean "scored a run", "advanced to next round" or something else?
    – JJJohn
    Apr 29 '20 at 13:23
  • scored a goal refers to hockey or (world) football (called soccer here). in baseball (MLB), you could say scored a run (i.e., cross the plate, even if due to someone else batting you in/home), getting an RBI or hitting a home run.
    – michael
    Apr 29 '20 at 13:32
  • Got it. Thank you. Your answer is informative and helpful. Would you explain a little bit about the last two examples, "to the matplotlib API" and "to the mandala"?
    – JJJohn
    Apr 29 '20 at 14:12

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