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It seems that the exact meaning of between is very tied to its specific usage. What should I assume in a general situation about the inclusivity of between? Consider:

  • "Pick a number between 1 and 10." Most people would consider between inclusive.

  • "How many numbers are there between 1 and 10?" Most people would consider between exclusive, i.e. 8 to be the correct answer.

Could the meaning of the word between have something to do with the grammatical structure of the sentence in which it is used?

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  • Your "most people" sample is how large?
    – GEdgar
    Jul 4, 2013 at 18:59
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    Not only the includedness or otherwise of your bounds is problematic (though that is a matter of definition). Most mathematicians would ask you to define which set of numbers you are talking about when you ask "How many numbers are there between 1 and 10?" Jul 4, 2013 at 22:24
  • For discrete objects such as finite lists of integers, "between" typically by default conveys inclusivity of the min- and max- imum.  For one-word twosided exclusivity (i.e., not including the endpoints, as in open intervals of continuous data ranges such as a segment of the number-line), you could swap 'between' for 'inbetween'.
    – 11qq00
    Oct 7, 2021 at 21:43

3 Answers 3

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There is no rule as to when between can be considered inclusive or exclusive, and the grammatical structure of the relevant sentence would not affect this.

You may be able to make deductions or assumptions from the subject and context of the sentence itself or surrounding sentences, but that would be only assumptions.

If the question of inclusion or exclusion were critical, the only way to determine what was intended would be to ask the author or speaker.

Personally, I would say that very strictly the limits of "between" are exclusive. But you cannot tell how any particular person uses it, and therefore, the only appropriate answer to your question is: "If in doubt, ask!"

Addendum (post-acceptance): The fact that "between" is strictly exclusive of the limits can be illustrated by considering its use when referring to physical objects. For example, you might refer to:

the gap/space between two parked vehicles
the path between the river and the road

In such cases the 'limits' are the vehicles, river and road: "between" does not include the vehicles, river or road, but refers only to the 'area' within those 'limits', namely the gap/space or path.
Likewise, "between 1 and 10" excludes the 'limits' 1 and 10, and includes only the 'items within those limits, namely 2 to 9.

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  • 4
    Counter point, and where the ambiguity comes from: "Pick a number between 3 and 4" Trick question, or one with two, clear choices?
    – Remus
    Feb 12, 2015 at 22:51
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    3.001, 3.01, 3.1 ... 3.999999 IMO I've heard people say "pick a number from 1 to 10", which I think would be inclusive. If people say between 3 and 4, I don't think you have an integer option. Dec 31, 2015 at 1:31
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    @TrevorD: On the other hand, the phrase "Between you and me" clearly includes both "you" and "me" (and indeed excludes everyone else). So your answer is correct to say there is no general rule :-)
    – psmears
    Feb 17, 2016 at 14:13
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    @psmears Can you (or anyone) give an example sentence where "between you and me" is inclusive? I'm curious if I can come up with a way to show that it is actually exclusive.
    – akinuri
    Apr 26, 2019 at 11:57
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    @akinuri See 1. (just) between you and me "used to tell someone that what you are about to say should be kept secret"; 2. (just) between you and me "What is going to be or has been said should not be told to anyone else. This phrase is usually said along with information that needs to be kept secret." These are clearly instances where "between you and me" is inclusive - and also exclusive of anyone else.
    – TrevorD
    Apr 26, 2019 at 15:32
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As TrevorD says, there's no reliable way to tell unless the speaker actually says "inclusive". In US English there's the useful form "One through ten" to indicate that it's an inclusive range, and it's making some headway in British use. That's one American language import that I don't mind, because it's so useful.

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    Wouldn't "one to ten" be the normal British phrase?
    – scipilot
    May 15, 2015 at 1:57
  • "One to ten" can have the same ambiguity as "between" - we still have to say "one to ten, inclusive" or "one to ten, exclusive".
    – digitig
    May 15, 2015 at 21:32
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    I would say that, in British English, "from 1 to 10" (as in "pick a number from 1 to 10") would normally be interpreted as inclusive
    – TrevorD
    Apr 12, 2016 at 10:09
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Like in the example above: which is the distance from the river to the road, it surely must be exclusive (unless you are on the wrong side of the river, in which case you might be asked if you want to include the width of the river). So from....to also requires context. Right?

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