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When referring to text that is in a set of consecutive sections, is there a difference in writing

"Sections X to Y"

compared to

"Sections X through Y" ?

My intended meaning is to include both Section X and Section Y, and any section in between them.

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With either of these, your intention can be made clear by adding the word "inclusive". Sections X through Y, inclusive. I prefer "through" to "to" for objects that are (as here) numbered. – Andrew Lazarus Dec 19 '12 at 17:36
<joke> Use square brackets for inclusive, parentheses for exclusive. </joke> – Kit Z. Fox Dec 19 '12 at 17:37
possible duplicate of "Through" or "to" for expression of range – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '12 at 19:10
@KitFox, I don't get the joke. I mean, of course what you wrote is correct, but what is funny about it? – jwpat7 Dec 19 '12 at 19:46
@jwpat7 Set of people who get the joke = [me, math geeks, you). wink – Kit Z. Fox Dec 20 '12 at 1:49
up vote 4 down vote accepted

If this is intended for a British audience, then do not use through. Use to, along with inclusive if there could be any doubt:

Sections X to Y [inclusive].

Through is so rarely used in this construction in BrE that "never used" may not be too strong. ODO has it as "North American" at sense 4.

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Hmm, the intended audience is "international", as this is a scientific/academic text. – Eyvind Dec 19 '12 at 18:16
I've no idea what "international" means in this context. Does it mean anything? If you want something which will not raise hackles anywhere, then use "X to Y inclusive". If you're not concerned about being seen as American and unconcerned, carry on with "through". BrE has seen it often enough to know what you're trying to say; but it doesn't use it itself. – Andrew Leach Dec 19 '12 at 18:23
What I meant with "international" was that the audience is not specifically British (or American, for that matter) English readers, but the international scientific (computer science) community at large. Thus, I would be inclined to use what would be most easily understood by the majority of the readers, however, I guess based on the replies to this question, that most everyone would understand "X to Y", whereas someone might be confused by "X through Y". – Eyvind Dec 20 '12 at 10:09

Informally, the two are equivalent. Consider these statements:

The course covers everything about baking from A to Z.

From the greatest to the humblest, all shall be judged.

There are ten questions on this test. Answer questions 1 to 5 first, then proceed with 6 to 10 if there is time.

Clearly all are meant inclusively. If absolute precision is required, as in a scientific or academic paper, use through. Otherwise it will be understood either way.

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Thanks; the text is a scientific paper. – Eyvind Dec 19 '12 at 18:15

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