1. 'the extent which'    vs    2. 'the extent to which' :

3. Semantically, how do these compare? I know that to is a preposition and so a Functional Morpheme, but does 'to' affect anything semantically?

4. Sociolinguistically, 1 appears obsolete whereas 2 is commoner and current, per Google Ngrams and my comparative Googling of "the extent which the" vs "the extent to which the". But I ask about Semantics here, and not Sociolinguistics.

The question emerged while reading p 309, Thinking Like a Lawyer: An Introduction to Legal Reasoning (2010, 2 ed) by Kenneth J. Vandevelde., which I include only for context; please advise if you know of better examples featuring 1.

Thus, the court has considered the weight given to the policies as well as the extent to which the prohibition furthers the policy of tranquillity and impedes the policy of free speech, that is, the relationship between ends and means.

  • Sociolinguistically, 1 is more common.
    – Dr. Funk
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 20:31
  • You've got the Ngram result the wrong way round. The use of "the extent to which" vastly exceeds "the extent which", to the point where the latter is virtually non-existent.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 20:36
  • In leaving off the verb, an important piece of information explaining the prepositional phrase is missing. Compare: the extremes of temperature which are found in the Arctic / the extremes to which the inhabitants will go to secure food for the winter ("go to extremes"). The prohibition furthers tranquility to some extent. The extent to which it does so is debatable. I helps, to some degree. To what degree it helps, we cannot be sure.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 20:55

2 Answers 2


First of all, neither the extent which nor the extent to which are constituents. Syntactic rules apply only to constituents. So you need to look at the other parts that complete this particular chunk.

When you do, you will find that they are all relative clauses modifying extent.
The which part is the relative pronoun, which comes immediately after its antecedent extent.
And the to part, when it appears, is simply a pied-piped preposition from the relative clause.

  • the extent to which he speaks the language

coming from

  • he speaks the language to which extent

Other prepositions could appear as well.

  • the extent of which is still unclear

But to is common because to is used with extent as its object in many common constructions

  • to that extent, to a certain extent, to some extent, to a large extent, etc.

If you're talking about an extent, that is, a physical or metaphorical distance, then you modify that noun with a relative clause the same way you would with any other noun. From Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America by C I Bevans:

[The absence of a uniform rate of exchange] ... may have the effect of indirectly subsidizing the exports of such areas to an extent which it would be difficult to calculate exactly.

What kind of extent is it? It's one that's hard to calculate exactly.

If you're using extent and describing the operation or the coverage of the extent, then you use to which (or by which). Check to see whether without changing the meaning, you can transpose the sentence to use the verb to extend, which is idiomatically followed by to as a preposition of purpose or spatial dimension. Let's check your example:

Thus, the court has considered the weight given to the policies as well as how far prohibition extends to further the policy of tranquillity and to impede the policy of free speech,....

If the same sense arises with extends to, as it does above, then use extent to in the original.

Note that you could say that "the prohibition extends the policy," but that changes the meaning from "the prohibition furthers the policy" (that is, enhances the policy) to make the prohibition part of the policy.

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