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Consider the sentence: "The boxes must be filled up to the last box".

Does this mean 'including' the last box or all 'but' the last box?

If I ask you to start with 1 and count up to 8, you'll likely say "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8".

But, if I lay a Black, Blue, Red and Yellow marker in front of you and ask you to start with the Black marker and take the caps off up to the Yellow marker. Do you take the cap off the Yellow marker?

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1  
See also this recent post at Language Log, discussing "up to" in its use as a term of art in advertising and legal implications of that use. –  Uticensis Mar 11 '11 at 22:55
    
If they're Sharpies you might not make it that far. –  Callithumpian Mar 12 '11 at 3:06
    
Always better to use the from...to construction when needed, and drop the up and just use to: "Count from 1 to 8", "Take the caps off from the black marker to the yellow one." Other possibilities: through to, all the way to. Don't think up to works well in the contexts you indicate. –  Jimi Oke Mar 12 '11 at 14:12

2 Answers 2

In the case of the markers, I would be more inclined to take the caps off the black, blue, and red, leaving the yellow cap on, simply because it would have been more natural for you to say "take the caps off" or "take all the caps off" and I would be inclined to interpret the "up to the yellow marker" in a way that makes sense for you to have felt it necessary to specify it that way. (Assuming I'm not allowed to ask for clarification, like "What, you mean all of them?")

In the case of the boxes, "up to the last box" can be more readily taken as an intensifier: "Fill them, (all the way) up to the last box." So I would fill all the boxes, even though the "up to" phrase is rather redundant.

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Usually "up to" means "up to and including", if not further clarified. So yes, you fill in the last box and take the cap off the yellow marker.

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The opposite would be true when drinking a cup of coffee "down to" the last drop. –  user6021 Mar 12 '11 at 2:58

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