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I ran into a sign that said "Fines can exceed up to $500". I have no idea what this means. Is the fine capped at $500? or can it exceed $500? In an attempt to understand what is going on I ran a Google search for "can exceed up to" and found many other examples of it; even a Neurosurgery site contains it in their paperwork:

DUE TO THE COMPLEX NATURE OF MANY OF OUR PATIENT’S MEDICAL PROBLEMS WAIT TIMES CAN EXCEED UP TO 1 HOUR OR MORE OF YOUR SCHEDULED APPOINTMENT. WE APPRECIATE YOUR PATIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING IN THIS MATTER.

This one feels even more odd since you can't exceed an unbounded amount (1 or more) nor does "up to" make sense since there is no upward bound.

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    Remember that just because people make signs doesn't mean their English is perfect. I've seen some real doozies. I actually think that making signs exacerbates the problem because people tend to try to"sound extra official" and use words outside of their normal vocabulary. – Jim Jun 10 '14 at 3:08
  • Agreed - this is "I am trying to write legalese to sound official and have blown it badly". – Joe McMahon Jun 20 '14 at 22:20
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The phrase "Fines can exceed up to $500" is completely ambiguous because "exceed" and "up to" contradict each other. The writer probably meant one of the following:

  1. Fines can exceed $500

  2. Fines cannot exceed $500

  3. Fines can be up to $500

  4. Fines can exceed no more than $500

Most likely, the writer replaced "be" with "exceed" because they didn't like the way "be" sounded. If this was their intent, then they should have used (2) or (4).

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The phrase "Fines can exceed up to $500" doesn't make sense to you because (a) it isn't numerically logical, and (b) the intention of the author of the phrase is ambiguous.

To make the statement logical, we'd have to add a clarification to it, along these lines:

"Fines can exceed any number up to $500."

That is, in plain English, fines may be as high as $500 but may not exceed that figure. Of course, it isn't difficult to express that idea less awkwardly. For example:

Fines of up to $500 may be imposed.

Or:

Violators are subject to fines of up to $500.

These clarifications fix the meaning of the phrase by identifying $500 as the maximum possible fine—but do they reflect the author's intended meaning? That is not at all clear—because the author may have intended to convey the idea that fines are open-ended, and not capped at $500. But if so, the underlying idea would have been clearer if the author had worded the notice as follows:

Fines may reach or exceed $500 in appropriate cases.

In short, statements of the type "Fines can exceed up to $500" are impossible to interpret with complete confidence because the literal meaning is fatally garbled and the actual intended meaning requires additional (or altered) wording to become intelligible.

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Typically, fines are a set price for an infraction. The term 'exceed' implies penalties over and above for the exceptions which can include increments for traveling over speed limits (5 miles over = $50 increment, 10 miles over = $75...), time of day (for school/hospital zones)...

"Fines can exceed up to $500". denotes the maximum that will be exceeded over the initial offense.

WAIT TIMES CAN EXCEED UP TO 1 HOUR OR MORE OF YOUR SCHEDULED APPOINTMENT

The sign poorly communicates the nature of emergency medical practice, and should have read WAIT TIMES MAY EXCEED SCHEDULED APPOINTMENTS BY 1 HOUR OR MORE

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