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How do I refer to an interval of numbers, such as book chapters for a reading list, while including both end values of the interval?

Take a sentence like:

For next time, read chapters 2 to 6.

or, because I am not perfectly sure of the difference, maybe:

For next time, read chapters 2 through 6.

Do these two sentences mean the same? And do they mean that the student must read chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6? Or only chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5? Or maybe just chapters 3, 4, and 5?

In my native language, with such sentence it is typically assumed that the end values are included, but it is not given and could be ambiguous. I need an English sentence like this for official use and cannot risk a misunderstanding. In my nativelanguage I would have added a phrase the ensures that both end values are included, such as:

Til næste gang, læst kapitel 2 til 6, begge inklusive. (Danish)

Which translates directly to

For next time, read chapters 2 through 6, both included. (Direct English translation)

But the English phrasing of "both included" along with "through" sounds odd in my ears.

Which phrase should I use for properly conveying the intention?

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  • 2
    The form 2 through / thru 6 ALWAYS includes both ends of the specified range. Any uncertainty with to is removed by 2 to 6 inclusive, and if you want to move further towards "algebraic" written notation, you could replace to by a dash. But the dash is for the written form only - in "real" language (speech) nobody ever says "The range is 2 dash 6 [inclusive]". Nov 7, 2023 at 17:49
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    It is not uncommon to say the word "inclusive" in certain contexts where the goal is to have not even the shadow of a doubt: "one to ten inclusive". google.com/books/edition/Constitution_of_the_State_of_Delaware/… ; google.com/books/edition/… Nov 7, 2023 at 22:20
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    Only a student manipulative or spectrumy would dare suggest that the teacher mentions chapter 6 to mean "Don't read that one." Nov 7, 2023 at 23:04
  • 3
    "1 to 6" is not usually ambiguous, it's usually inclusive. "between 1 and 6" may be ambiguous.
    – Barmar
    Nov 8, 2023 at 16:07

5 Answers 5

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The version with through is more unambiguously inclusive of the endpoints—at least to the ears of Americans. If it is critical to avoid ambiguity, your Danish version has the English version “read chapters 2 through 6 inclusive.”

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  • 17
    We British would always say '2 to 6' and no-one would interpret that as not including Ch. 6. Nov 7, 2023 at 17:34
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    I agree, even here in the US, it is unlikely that “2 to 6” would be interpreted to exclude chapter 6. But if one compares the OP’s scenario to something like “On that last play, the wide receiver took the ball all the way to the goal line,” that would strongly suggest that he had nevertheless not gotten it across the goal line. Nov 7, 2023 at 17:37
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    The question is still relevant as it depends of the subject. For instance, books and hours are not the same: "read the chapters 2 to 6; and don't forget that class, tomorrow, is from 2 to 6", you expect the student to read until they see "chapter 7" (chapter 6 is included) but to leave at 6 o'clock (hour 6 is excluded).
    – SteeveDroz
    Nov 8, 2023 at 6:52
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    @PaulTanenbaum It probably depends on the context, and on how familiar the reader is with the US usage.  These days, I think many would understand the intended meaning.  But it's still a bit confusing.  (I for one have to stop and think “Do they mean until?  Or does it carry on past that?”)  Compare with e.g. “I drove from Town A through Town B.” — would that imply in the USA, as it does in the UK, that you didn't stop in Town B but drove out of it too?
    – gidds
    Nov 8, 2023 at 12:53
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    Yes, @gidds, traveling through does mean for me entering, traversing, and exiting. So for me, in read chapters 2 through 6, the image is one of emerging at the far side (i.e., having just reached the end) of chapter 6. Nov 8, 2023 at 13:54
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In general in English, intervals are generally assumed to be inclusive (‘closed’ in mathematical terms) unless explicitly specified otherwise. There are a couple of specific exceptions to this, most notably:

  • Intervals using ‘until’, ‘up to’, or similar prepositions that imply a limit are usually not inclusive of the ending point. So, using your example, ‘chapter 2 up to chapter 6’ would usually be assumed to exclude chapter 6.
  • Time intervals are usually assumed to also not include the ending point as part of the interval unless dealing with units larger than hours and using the preposition ‘through’ (so ‘14:00 to 16:00 would exclude 16:00, and ‘Sunday to Tuesday’ would usually exclude Tuesday, but ‘Sunday through Tuesday’ would usually include Tuesday).

Other than those cases though, you can almost always safely assume that an interval is inclusive in English.

Given this, you don’t need to add anything for your example to be understood, just ‘chapters 2 through 6’ or ‘chapters 2 to 6’ is sufficient. If you really want to make it explicit, you could instead use ‘chapters 2 to/through 6 inclusive’ or ‘chapter 2 through the end of chapter 6’, but both sound a bit overly formal and academic (though the first one is a bit less so).

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en-dash (–) An en-dash is used to connect continuing or inclusive numbers, replacing the word to in dates, times, or reference numbers. It is also used instead of a hyphen in compound adjectives when one or more of the elements consists or more than one word.

1968–72
10 a.m.–5 p.m.
pp. 35–45

An en-dash is

half the length of an em-dash and longer than a hyphen. In copy it is usually typed as a hyphen. In Web copy, use the HTML code –

en dash

Read chapters 2-6. That is all you need.

Chapter 6 would be included.

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When someone refers to a range of number from number1 to number2, it is always inclusive. It means that the range is starting from number1 and ends at number2.

to and through in this case means the same.

Therefore, both of these

For next time, read chapters 2 to 6.

For next time, read chapters 2 through 6.

means to read chapter 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

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There can be all kinds of philosophies about whether "2 to 6" includes the limits or not, why take the risk instead of being extra specific?

I would readily sacrifice language purity for clarity. So something like "from 2 to 6, including 2 and 6" would be my choice (even if it is ugly).

The pool is open for members from 16 to 18 years old would probably be interpreted as "you cannot enter once you are past your 18th birthday". Well, except in our city pool where this means "until your 19th birthday".

Explicit trumps implicit when you pass information.

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