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To mention the scale of a map, which is more natural and formal, "Four and one half feet to an inch" or "Four and half feet to an inch" ?

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    Four and a half feet to an inch
    – MorganFR
    May 6, 2016 at 14:11

2 Answers 2

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In writing, I would use "four and one half feet.

In speech, I would say "four and one half feet if I want to emphasize the number - e.g. I am telling someone the conversion for the first time.

If I am referring to the conversion or speaking quickly, I might say "four and a half feet.

[spoken] He gave me a map of the city that was four and one half feet to the inch..... Can you believe that? How am I supposed to carry a map with a scale of four and a half feet to the inch! The map was huge! ....Four and one half feet to the inch.

Caveat: I am an engineer in the U.S. My demographic has a reputation for being very precise with numbers, so it may be the case that others use "four and one half a little less frequently than me. The point is that either is acceptable, and the choice between them is a matter of style.

EDIT: In response to comments.

  • Fractions in ratios are a little awkward, but not totally unheard of. For instance, in describing road grades or streambed slopes, they pop up. The OP asked about scale ratios in maps, and I agree that that is a peculiar scale to use, but mostly because it makes for huge maps. Maybe in an architectural drawing?

  • User3169 suggests I point out that I switched the OP's feet to an inch to feet to the inch. Using to the is much more common, at least in the U.S.

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  • It's probably also worth mentioning that this is not likely to come up... using fractions in a scale ratio is just a mess.
    – T.J.L.
    May 6, 2016 at 17:34
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    @T.J.L. I agree - I was trying to formulate a comment about why you should use 1::54 notation instead, but I started to get all Engineery and it got too far afield from English, so I didn't hit the submit button.
    – ColleenV
    May 6, 2016 at 19:31
  • You might emphasize "to the inch" (as you wrote) which is a better option than "to an inch" that was used in the question.
    – user3169
    May 6, 2016 at 21:52
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"Four and one half" is grammatical, but it is much less common than "four and a half". ("Four and half" is not grammatical).

My intuition also says that "Four and one half" is American, and I would not expect to find it in British English.

Looking at GloWbE (the corpus of global web-based English) bears out my expectations. "and one half" occurs 376 times in the corpus, with over 100 being in US sources, 59 British, and 50 Canadian.

"And a half" occurs 39482 times (more than 100 times as often), and GB sources slightly outnumber US sources (8563, 8120 respectively).

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