X to Y: Recency illusion?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Apr 29 14:27:42 UTC 2008

On Apr 28, 2008, at 10:34 AM, Erik Hoover wrote, about "X to Y" for
"from X to Y":

> Betcha beans to bacon there are multiple factors going on here.

no doubt, but this construction is almost surely a red herring.
neal's examples (and the ones i added to them) all have the semantics
of a span (literal or metaphorical), while "bet you beans to
bacon" (and "dollars to doughnuts" -- and older "dollars to buttons/
dumplings") has a very different semantics, probably related to the
ratio semantics in "Senator Smudge is favored by voters two to one"
and the like.  not everything of the form "X to Y" is likely to be
relevant to the examples neal brought up.

but there are possibly relevant cases with span semantics.

1. some cases where "from" *cannot* be used, e.g.
   Chapters (*from) 6 to 10 treat neurological disorders of several

2. some cases where "from" is hard to omit (for me, anyway) -- in
particular, some cases of "from X to Y" serving as integrated
adverbials, as in
   We cycled from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
   ??We cycled San Francisco to Los Angeles.
(the facts are complex, and seem to depend on the type of adverbial
and the verb modified.)

All of neal's examples except the most recent one had "X to Y"
functioning as adverbials, but standing alone, rather than integrated
into clauses.

3. cases of "from X to Y" where at least some usage critics recommend
omitting the "from".  Copperud's American Usage, for example,
recommends against "from" in "from X to Y" denoting a numerical span,
at least when it's serving as a quantity premodifier.

that's not what Copperud says.  he merely gives examples that he
dislikes and leaves it to the reader to figure out what
generalizations might be involved.  his discussion is remarkably
confused, in fact.  "from" comes up in a section advising against
piling up prepositions (as in "off of" and "at about", which are cases
different from each other and from "P from X to Y").  so he starts
with "of from" and "by from" in things like
   earnings of from N1 to N2 million dollars
   speed up delivery by from N1 to N2 hours
but then goes on to say that sometimes even the single P "from" should
be omitted. as in things like
   received from N1 to N2 inches of snow
(you'll recognize this as Omit Needless Words advice).  so the
proscription is really just about "from", and the P+P stuff is beside
the point.

i have some sympathy with this advice, though i don't object to "from"
in the snow example.  for subjects, however, i'd prefer to do without
the "from", as in:
   From three to five people will turn up at the party.
but it's a pretty subtle point, and i can't see any reason to insist
on omitting "from" in quantity premodifiers.  both variants are


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