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I've been reading The Economist lately and noticed that the magazine uses both trebled and tripled. According to my dictionary, "treble" means "threefold; triple". Is there a subtle difference, not captured by the dictionary entry?

Some examples, "trebled":

  • The Economist’s index of non-oil commodity prices has trebled in the past decade.
  • The number of companies from Brazil, India, China or Russia on the Financial Times 500 list trebled in 2006-08 from 20 to 62.
  • That number has more than trebled since 1999.

"Tripled":

  • In the ten years to 2010, internet users in the developed economies just about tripled.
  • Intercepts of Chinese planes almost tripled last year, to 96 (see chart).
  • Many of the 20 leading economic performers in the OECD doubled or tripled their education spending in real terms between 1970 and 1994, yet outcomes in many countries stagnated—or went backwards.
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5 Answers 5

up vote 27 down vote accepted

According to the Cambridge Corpus of American English, Americans strongly prefer triple as an adjective, noun and verb. British and Australian writers, on the other hand, seem to use both triple and treble, but with treble more frequent as a verb and triple as a noun and adjective.

Fowler distinguished between treble meaning that something had become three times as large in size, and triple meaning consisting of three parts, but that no longer seems a reliable guide, if it ever was.

(Adapted from ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’)

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+1 Enlightening answer! –  Daniel Oct 4 '11 at 13:21
    
Fowler is correct. And why not refer to usage in India, the world's largest English speaking country? –  user50736 Aug 28 '13 at 20:28

In British English usage I think Fowler is right. For example you'd talk about a 'triple sundae' (three different components) or 'triple therapy' (therapy comprising three different drugs), whereas you might say 'treble nine' for 999. Personally I wouldn't use the other word in any of those cases. To me, 'treble' is three times the same thing and 'triple' is three of different things.

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I'm a British English speaker, and I think I agree with Russell: triple suggests three different things and treble suggests three the same. A triathlon would be a triple event (never a treble), but three successive wins would be a treble (rarely a triple). Analogously, a double of something would always be two the same; duple (though its rarely used outside technical contexts such as music and biology) would indicate two different things.

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Welcome to EL&U. To agree with an existing answer, it is not necessary to add a new answer; you can upvote Russell's answer using the up icon to the left. When you have sufficient experience on the site, you will be able to leave comments. –  choster Jan 7 at 15:01

Well I'm not so sure about treble being used more as a verb in the UK because whenever you hear a British sports commentator, they say: "This team/player did the treble last year" meaning he won three competitions and also when people call out their phone number, they will say "Oh treble five seven two ..." but treble is definitely used more than triple in the sense of to grow three-fold just as double means to grow two-fold.

And I'm not too happy about the rules for responding here. It says, Don't make statements based on opinion- back them up with references. What are references but others' opinions? Even official facts are opinions about a set of data, are they not? :) With less strict rules, there might be triple the number of responses.

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One other use of treble I have heard is as an alternative to the word soprano. In this case, triple is never used.

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That's quite clearly not what the question is about. Nobody would ever speak of triple and bass in music either; that much is obvious. Only the ‘threefold’ word is being discussed here. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 6 at 2:36
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We appreciate your input. This is more of a "comment" than an answer, but once you have earned enough reputation, you will be able to comment, which can include opinions and additional information. In the meantime, we ask that you include links to support your answers. –  medica Jan 6 at 4:25

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