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A native speaker wrote this:

In 1968 the proportion of weekly income spent on the remaining categories never exceeded 10%.

He said that in this context, it should be read as each of the remaining categories accounting for 10% or less.

Is this true? I don't need to say "each of the remaining categories"? "The remaining categories" is clear enough? I'm worried that his sentence may be read as the remaining categories together accounting for no higher than 10%.

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  • Before the sentence containing "remaining categories", what are the categories??
    – Lambie
    Jul 22, 2022 at 15:09
  • Thanks for asking. In 1968, families spent most on food, accounting for 35% of their income, whereas in 2018 this figure decreased by almost half to around 17%. In 1968 the proportion of weekly income spent on the remaining categories never exceeded 10%. Jul 22, 2022 at 15:16
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    Food is a category, right? each of the other categories rather than remaining.
    – Lambie
    Jul 22, 2022 at 16:08
  • Thank you. But there is a comment that says "any" is better than "each". How about "any of the other categories"? And yes, food is a category. Jul 22, 2022 at 16:17

4 Answers 4

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I agree with you that your friend's sentence is ambiguous and should be written in a clearer way. It would be helpful if you provided the preceding context, but I suppose it was something like this:

Families spent 35% of their weekly income on food, 22% on leisure and 19% on housing. The proportion of weekly income spent on the remaining categories never exceeded 10%.

I think a better way to state the intended point is "the proportion of weekly income spent in any other single category never exceeded 10%." (Though I question the use of "never" here - but that's a separate discussion.)

That being said, I think that most native speakers would probably assume the paragraph above to mean what is intended, even though I agree that some might be misled into interpreting the sentence in accordance with its more technical meaning, i.e. "the proportion of weekly income spent on the remaining categories, in total, never exceeded 10%."

Your proposed sentence - "the proportion of weekly income spent on each of the remaining categories never exceeded 10%" - is also susceptible to a technical objection. It could be interpreted as stating that spending in all four of the remaining categories did not exceed 10% (i.e., it could be true if spending in only three of the four exceeded 10%), which is not what is intended.

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  • Thank you very much. "The proportion of weekly income spent in any other single category never exceeded 10%". Would the meaning change if I remove the word "single"? Jul 22, 2022 at 14:54
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    Actually no, you can remove single without changing the meaning. I think it's helpful, though, if your goal is to strain the brain of the reader as little as possible.
    – cruthers
    Jul 22, 2022 at 15:09
  • Another wording would be "spending in none of the remaining categories exceeded 10%".
    – nasch
    Jul 23, 2022 at 19:04
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In this context, it is obvious what you mean to say when you look at the graph, but without it, the sentence is ambiguous. It could either mean 'each of the remaining categories' OR 'all the categories together', but people are more likely to assume the latter, since 'each' has not specifically been mentioned.

'Each' should definitely be added to the sentence in order to remove any uncertainty about the meaning you want to convey.

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  • Thank you very much. Which do think is better: "each of the remaining categories" or "each remaining category"? Jul 22, 2022 at 14:34
  • Both are grammatically correct as well as idiomatic, but I would go with "each remaining category", since it is simpler and uses fewer words to convey the same meaning. Jul 22, 2022 at 14:39
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As I read the sentence, the phrase the remaining categories represents a group. So the sentence would signify spent on this group of items as opposed to other groups or other individual items.

If the intention of the writer is to refer to each/some/any of the remaining categories, this needs to be spelled out.

However, it would certainly remove any ambiguity by referring either to remaining categories as a group/whole/together or each/some/any of the remaining categories.

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  • Thank you very much. Which is a better fit for that sentence: "each" or "any"? In 1968 the proportion of weekly income spent on each/any of the remaining categories never exceeded 10%. Jul 22, 2022 at 14:58
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    I would say than spent in ANY of the remaining categories to make it clear that the spending in every remaining category was less than this sum. Jul 22, 2022 at 15:59
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I think I would recommend something like

In 1968 the proportion of weekly income spent on any of the remaining categories never exceeded 10%.

Or you could revise this to refer to none of the four categories.

This unambiguously rules out the potential misunderstandings that you meant the total of all four categories, or some but not all of the four categories.

As it is “spent on the four categories” seems likely to be misunderstood, and “spent on each of the remaining categories” is less likely to be, but still might.

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