How should I read these sentences that contain numerical (?) phrases?

A: "I have gone there 3-4 times."

1- I have gone there three, four times.

2- I have gone there three to four times.

3- I have gone there three or four times.


B: "Bring me 10-15 apples".

1- Bring me ten, fifteen apples.

2- Bring me ten to fifteen apples.

3- Bring me ten or fifteen apples.



The correct interpretation of the dash is 'to' and means that acceptable numbers are the first, the second or anything in between.

In example A, three and four are consecutive numbers, and the number of times must be a whole number (an integer), so "three or four" means exactly the same as "three to four". When this situation arises, "or" is the preferred option.

The valid ways of expressing these two statements in full are therefore

I have been there three to four times.

which suggests an exact or literal interpretation: in most contexts, this would seem over-precise and finicky.

I have been there three or four times

which suggests that an approximate interpretation.

Bring me ten to fifteen apples.

"or" is not valid in this case, because it excludes 11, 12, 13 and 14.

  • Thanks a lot,@JavaLatte. If I want to show "or" can I use "/" between those two numbers? Like "3/ 4 "?
    – Soudabeh
    Mar 14 '16 at 20:16
  • 1
    That would work as long as only whole numbers are valid. If fractions are possible, for example minutes, then 3/4 might be mistaken for three-quarters. An 's' on the end of the following noun would give the game away "3/4 minutes" versus "3/4 minute", but if you abbreviate minutes, "3/4 min" is ambiguous.
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 14 '16 at 20:21

The hyphen indicates a range which is verbally expressed using to. In some cases this is synonymous with the or form, but 3-4 literally means "three to four". If you're reading the sentence out loud, say to. The form with a comma is an informal version of the or form.

The distinction matters because or can also mean either ten or fifteen. I.e.: "ten to fifteen"={10,11,12,13,14,15}; "ten or fifteen"={10,15}.


Usually (but not necessarily always depending on context) a dash between numbers indicates a range: if you said those sentences to me, I would interpret A as meaning

I have gone there three or four times. (it's technically three to four, but when there are no numbers between the upper and lower limits of the range you can say "or" since there are only two possibilities).

For B, I would interpret that as

Bring me between ten and fifteen apples. (in other words, your option 2)

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