112

Suppose you are told that "Jane makes over six figures". Assuming this to be true, what is the minimum amount of money that Jane can be making?

I have always understood this to mean "Jane makes at least seven figures", i.e. "Jane makes at least $1,000,000", but I have recently learned that some people understand this to mean "Jane makes more than the smallest six-figure number", i.e. "Jane makes at least $100,001".

  1. Which of these interpretations is more widely understood?
  2. Which of these interpretations is prescriptively correct (if either)?

(I am aware that there are unambiguous ways to express the same idea, but that is beside the point here.)

  • 8
    I would have agreed with you but a quick browse through Google results indicates most people use it in the second sense. (Examples here google.co.uk/…) – Martin Smith May 5 '16 at 20:11
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    It barely matters which any person means. Is there any situation that uses a vague expression like "six figures" where distinguishing between [100000, 999999] and [100001, 999999] is critical? – chepner May 6 '16 at 12:41
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    we know by context they actually mean "over (6 figures)" rather than "(over 6) figures" – JamesRyan May 6 '16 at 14:49
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    @chepner The ambiguity is [100001, 999999] vs [1000000, (inf)] – Izkata May 6 '16 at 16:06
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    Being a native speaker does not mean they will be experts in the language. While grammatically the phrase is parsable and correct, in common parlance it is a terrible turn of phrase and should not be used. I am in no doubt that they meant that Jane earns > $100,000 but their choice of phrase is questionable at best. – anothershrubery May 10 '16 at 10:43

15 Answers 15

125

I'd actually be inclined to say Jane makes at least $100,000/year. In this case, I interpret over to mean greater than or equal to, even though I would normally assume it to mean greater than in numeric contexts. It just seems unlikely that Jane makes $1,000,000/year or more.

This usage also seems to be somewhat common when describing minimum age requirements, as in over 18 (vs. 18 or over). With ages, you can make the argument that after the precise passing of your 18th birthday, you're over 18 (e.g., 18 years and 1 day old), but at best, this seems ambiguous to me.

Prescriptively, it seems wrong to me. In actual usage, it seems ambiguous. I'd avoid it.

  • 30
  • 10
    Note that interpreting "over" as "greater than or equal to" also avoids the issue of whether it applies to the amount ($100000) or the number of figures (6) in the amount. – R.. May 6 '16 at 1:03
  • 1
    I'd say at least $100,001. – gnasher729 May 6 '16 at 15:44
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    I don't think the age comparison is accurate. To make them comparable like that, it would either be "age is greater than 1 digit" or "salary is over 100,000". (although the phrasing removes the ambiguity in the question) – Izkata May 6 '16 at 16:15
  • 3
    Sadly, many (if not most) people fail to appreciate the significance of the distinction between "greater than" and "greater than or equal to", and simply use the former as shorthand for the latter. Therefore, when people say things like this, it's really impossible to know for sure what they mean. – Monty Harder May 9 '16 at 14:36
79

"Jane makes six figures": at least $100 000, at most $999 999.

I've never heard or seen "over six figures", and I would definitely avoid it because of the ambiguity you note, but I would expect most people to mean "well over $100 000", because 1) not very many people earn seven-figure salaries and 2) for those who do, you can say "seven figures" or "a million dollars a year".

You're not the first to ask yourself the question: Teamliquid

  • 19
    Top comment there "over six figures obviously means 100,000+. No need to be pedantic about it." – Colonel Panic May 6 '16 at 12:57
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    "six figures" definitely means (to me) 100000 <= x < 1000000 and I've always thought "over six figures" is something like 250000 <= x < 1000000. In other words, not the bare minimum. – davidbak May 6 '16 at 16:34
  • 3
    "Over six figures" is a common expression in Canada / USA. – sjakubowski May 6 '16 at 20:22
  • 1
    @sjakubowski common, yes . . . and I presume you commonly consider it means over $100,000, or well over $100,000, not over a million dollars? – Law29 May 6 '16 at 22:33
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    @JoeBlow and that is the crux of the problem, I'd say "over" a range meaning "over the highest point of the range", "six figures" is the range 100,000 - 999,999, and so both "(over six) figures" and "over (six figures)" should logically mean "a million or more", but since it's mostly used to denote the salary in relation to the psychological 100k threshold a lot of people seem to equate "six figures" to "100k" or "100k and a little more", which makes "over six figures" mean . . . maybe 200k and over? – Law29 May 9 '16 at 17:22
34

It seems this is all about parsing. The given phrase over six figures can be parsed in two obvious ways:

over (six figures)

which would be "more than 100,000", or

(over six) figures

which would "more than 1,000,000".

Neither parsing can be said to be "wrong", but it seems that the most commonly intended parsing is the first one.

  • 21
    But six figures is not just 100,000; it's anything from 100,000 through 999,999. In order to be over that, you must be over all of it, and thus must be at least seven figures. – jwodder May 6 '16 at 12:50
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    @jwodder exactly. The first interpretation here is "over (MINIMUM of six figures)" which is an asspull. – Davor May 6 '16 at 16:59
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    If I were to attribute an intention to the usage of this ambiguous expression, it would be a dishonest intention to have it both ways: to make me think it means a million or more (on the assumption that I would be impressed by that), while retaining an option to weasel out of the odium of an outright lie if the actual figure turned out to be 101,000. – Brian Donovan May 7 '16 at 17:10
  • @jwodder that is exactly what I describe, you just ignore the second possibility. You're reading (over six) figures, whereas over (six figures) is not only grammatically acceptable, it also seem sthe more common reading. – oerkelens May 10 '16 at 8:11
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    @oerkelens: I think you've misunderstood jwodder's comment. (S)he isn't ignoring your second parse, (s)he's disagreeing with the semantics you assign to your first parse. "Over {six figures}", according to jwodder, still means "at least 1,000,000", since if it's e.g. 500,000 then it's in the six-figure range, not over the six-figure range. – ruakh May 10 '16 at 21:29
13

"Six figures" could be anywhere from 100,000 until 1,000,000. This is a rather wide range. Thus, it's often qualified. For example, "low six-figures", "mid six-figures", "high six-figures". Without qualification, it often seems reasonable to presume low six-figures. Why? Of the households earning at least 100k, 88% earn 100,000 - 249,999. This does not, however, mean "six-figures" is defined as 100,000. It's simply an ambiguous range to which one can apply common-sense assumptions.

The term "figure" refers to the number of digits. This is unambiguous, no room for argument. There's no other prescribed meaning. In my experience, this is also the colloquial usage. I've never heard someone argue for "six figures" to mean exactly 100,000. And if I did, I'd likely correct them (with as little pedantry as possible).

With this understanding, it's rather clear that "over six-figures" is at least 1,000,000, with the same understanding that without qualification, it's likely closer to 1,000,000 than 10,000,000.

  • 3
    I agree with you - over 6 figures is used to denote in the millions. Otherwise, it'd be at least 6 figures. Over cannot mean including. – Allan S. Hansen May 6 '16 at 6:50
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    While this is literally correct, English is not a language to which literal rules apply (I'm not sure there are any natural languages that fit that criterion). – T.J. Crowder May 6 '16 at 10:36
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    @T.J.Crowder The question wants prescriptive and descriptive definitions. I provided both, with argument. English often is literal. And often, it's not. I argue here that in this case, this time period, my region, it is. – djeikyb May 6 '16 at 15:21
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    I didn't say you didn't provide definitions. I suggested that those definitions are incorrect in light of the human nature of natural language. I obviously can't speak for your region, but in the ones I'm familiar with (various parts of the U.S., the UK), I think I would expect a figure between 100,000 and 1,000,000, not over 1,000,000. It's not what the speaker literally said, but it's much more likely what they meant. – T.J. Crowder May 6 '16 at 16:18
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    This answer flatly contradicts itself. You say that, without qualification, "six figures" usually means "low six figures", i.e., a couple of hundred thousand. Then you claim that "over six figures", which is unqualified ("over" is not a qualifier; it's a statement of relationship between something else and "six figures") means more than any six-figure number, i.e., at least a million. Why? By the argument in your first argument, it means "more than a couple of hundred thousand." – David Richerby May 7 '16 at 18:19
7

I would pay attention to the way they say it.

There was a Seinfeld episode--Episode 94 "The Mom and Pop Store"--where Jerry was trying to figure out whether he was invited to a party.

ELAINE: Well, I talked to Tim Whatley...

JERRY: Yeah...

ELAINE: And I asked him, "Should Jerry bring anything?"

JERRY: So...?

ELAINE: Mmmm...and he said, "Why would Jerry bring anything?"

JERRY: Alright, but let me ask you this question.

ELAINE: What?

JERRY: Which word did he emphasize? Did he say, "Why would Jerry bring anything?" or, "Why would Jerry bring anything?" You emphasize "Jerry" or "bring."

ELAINE: I think he emphasized "would."

The scene points out that a large amount of language is actually communicated via tone and emphasis. Jerry reasoned that if emphasis was on his name, then his attendance was in question, but if it was on "bring", then his attendance was assumed but his need to bring something for the party was in question. Of course, since Tim emphasized "would," there's no way to tell.

So if someone told me that a friend of theirs made "over six figures", I would assume that the six figures isn't the important part, but the "over," which would mean they make $1 000 000 or more, but if they said "over six figures", I would assume $100 001 - $999 999.

But if they emphasized "makes" I don't know what to tell you.

  • 2
    Your general observation is correct, but I'd find it very surprising for someone to use "over six figures" when they actually meant "over a million". "Six figures", in particular, is a fairly bright dividing line (in spite of its vagueness), since it roughly defines the middle of "middle class income". – Hot Licks May 7 '16 at 18:45
  • @HotLicks: I'm puzzled why you posted this comment on Devsman's answer, when there are several posts in this thread (including the question itself) that say that "over six figures" could mean ≥10⁷, because >6 means ≥7 (when you're talking about discrete, countable things). – Scott May 8 '16 at 23:56
  • @Scott - Because it seemed a bit redundant to post the same comment six times. (And when referring to income in the US, what I said is correct -- "six figures" definitely means between $100,000 and $999,999.) – Hot Licks May 9 '16 at 1:00
  • @HotLicks: But I mean, why wouldn't you just post it on the question? – Scott May 9 '16 at 1:09
6

For a mathematician, "over six figures" means "[an integer] requiring at least seven digits for its full expression", namely, at least one million, and this sense is no different from its meaning in common English. However, given the diverse answers here, it seems that many people do not see it this way; so the expression should be considered suspect and generally avoided.

  • 1
    Are you suggesting that mathematicians are out of touch with common usage? Context is everything. – JoeTaxpayer May 8 '16 at 16:27
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    The diverse answers here are providing their opinions. "Archaeology is the search for fact not truth." Yahoo Answers is next door, people. – Mazura May 8 '16 at 20:06
3

"Over six figures" should not be taken to mean "seven figures". It means that she passed the line between 5 and 6 figures, and is now "over" the 6 figures line.

"Jane ran over ten miles yesterday."

You would take this to mean that Jane ran at least 10 miles yesterday. But likely not 15 or 20 miles, as in that case the speaker would have used 15 or 20 rather than 10.

So it can be safely assumed that Jane ran somewhere around 10.5, 11, or 13 miles yesterday.

"Jane makes over six figures."

Similarly, Jane's salary is running a race. She passed the 6-figure mile marker, and is now going past it.

But if she were making $200k or $500k or $1 Million, those more specific numbers would be used rather than basing the estimate at $100k "six figures".

  • 1
    Let's see. In the previous test, I scored 9/100, which was a single figure score. This time, I improved to 12/100, which is ... uhm, over double figure? :o – Masked Man May 8 '16 at 14:13
  • The question is not whether "over ten" means 15 or 20.  The question is whether "over ten" means "at least eleven", or does 10.5 qualify as "over ten"?  And even then, the analogy isn't very good.  A better question might be, if Jane owns 10½ cars, does that qualify as "over ten cars"? – Scott May 8 '16 at 23:37
  • The point is that we're talking about income. Test scores or some such could easily be a different matter, but with regard to income the meaning is well-established. – Hot Licks May 9 '16 at 1:03
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    I disagree: Someone earning $999,999 is earning six figures. They're not earning over six figures. Count the figures. There are six of them. – megaflop May 9 '16 at 9:03
3

"Over six figures" is perfectly idiomatic US speech for between $100,000 and $999,999. "Six figures" might be argued to have other meanings with regard to test scores or race track odds or some such, but when speaking of income the practice is well-established and well-understood. (See, for example, this useage -- when searching on the page, search for "six-figure".)

In particular, the $100,000 point is significant when speaking of income as it roughly defines the middle of the "upper middle class" (depending on family size), so saying "over six figures" is a way of saying "solid upper middle class income".

  • 1
    Hmm... Maybe this is more common in some parts of the U.S. than others? I'm a native speaker and I don't recall having ever heard the phrase "over six figures" in my life prior to reading this question. "Six figures" is perfectly idiomatic U.S. English (particularly in reference in incomes or other sums of money,) "Low/Mid/High six figures" is also idiomatic, but "over six figures" just seems like an awkward usage. – reirab May 11 '16 at 3:55
2

I agree with others who have said that "over six figures" is idiomatic. It's not synonymous with "six figures," though—closer to "at least six figures."

Both describe roughly the same range of 100,000 and up: "He makes over six figures," and "He makes at least six figures" would both be true if he makes $200,000 or $2,000,000. But "at least six figures" implies that the speaker thinks it may be 1,000,000+, whereas "over six figures" implies that it's comfortably over the 100,000 threshold, but may be known to be below 1,000,000.

"Over six figures" is used as the dual of the more common "under six figures," which means "under 100,000."

I don't think there's anything "over (six figures)" really means if we look at it compositionally. "Over" and "under" take numbers, not ranges, and when you say "over 10-30," nothing about the meaning of "over" itself picks out one of those numbers—it just expected one kind of argument and got another. But in use, "under 10-30," clearly suggests "under 10." We get "over six figures" by expecting "six figures" to make the same contribution it makes in "under six figures."

2

I think it's obvious by the usage and the context. If they're making a point that the amount of money is high, they're going to say seven figures for 1,000,000.

To my mind, six-figures represents the threshold of six figures (100,000) and that alone. To me, the saying "over six-figures" denotes an amount over 100,000, and that's the only way I feel that it will actually ever come up in conversation.

1

In the banking sector letters of reference are given using "figures" to express the amounts of their clients lines of credit. For example , the following text: Client XYZ has a low six figures line of credit; means that their Client has a line of credit in the 250k range.

Mid six figures would mean in the 500k range and high six figures in the 750k range.

The same criteria should be used to express salary ranges.

  • 4
    This doesn't answer the question. What does "over six figures" mean? – David Richerby May 7 '16 at 18:25
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    The problem is how the question is formulated: over six figures is any number above six figures; based on the six figures concept explained; it could be any number greater than 100,000.00 (100,000.01) to infinity – user1468834 May 7 '16 at 19:04
0

"Over six figures" is ambiguous. From that statement alone, you cannot possibly know how much she makes (even assuming that the person who told you actually knows her salary).

You can safely assume that she makes more than $100,000, but you have to guess what the person meant: Either they meant six figures = $100,000, so it's over $100,000, or they meant six figures = from $100,000 to $999,999, so it's at least $1,000,000.

And there's the possibility that they used "more than 6 figures" to express "substantially more than $100,000, but much less than 7 figures = $1,000,000". So if someone makes $300,000, that person might say "more than 6 figures" instead of "6 figures".

If I heard "less than 7 figures", again, I wouldn't know for sure, but I would guess "substantially less than a million", which might be $500,000. Still, just guessing. It's ambiguous.

We can have a poll what people would assume if they heard "over six figures", but there is no correct answer.

  • It seems like you've basically copied and pasted the question, with the question marks removed, and mixed in snippets of other answers (posted before yours). – Scott May 8 '16 at 23:31
0

"Over six figures" is synonymous with "makes six figures" and is used to express compensation of more than $100,000. Once Jane receives compensation of $1,000,000, she will have made seven figures. No one (that I've ever spoken too, YMMV) will hear six figures and think of a number over $999,999 as that would then be seven figures. Conversely, if you were to say under six figures, I would take this to mean an amount that is not yet six figures but close. You can choose to try and enforce over six figures to mean 1,000,000, but I imagine the majority of people you speak to will not share your interpretation.

Is this mathematically accurate? No. Does the English language follow mathematically accurate concepts when creating common phrases? Not really. (Look up the definition for bi-monthly)

0

We always can make own research.

We can see the occurrence (about 1,190,000 results here; search term, "six figure salary meaning")

https://www.google.ie/?client=firefox-b#q=six+figure+salary+meaning&gws_rd=cr

For prevalence, we can click result pages 10 or 15, to see if the occurrence remains.

About 5,500,000 results remain, page 15, for the search term, "six figure salary"

https://www.google.ie/?client=firefox-b#q=six+figure+salary&start=140

It is certain the phrase is in wide use, so it should have an established sense.

We view usage in context, turning to linguistically adept resources, as The Washington Post on household subsidies. "Data from the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation shows that the the vast majority subsidy is paid to households with income over six figures."

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/09/30/jeb-bush-says-black-voters-get-free-stuff-so-does-he/

The New Your Times tells about the price of education."At a time when the price of a degree from elite institutions is well over six figures, fields such as literature and the arts may seem like a luxury item. ".

http://www.forbes.com/pictures/efkk45jfek/americas-20-most-surprising-six-figure-jobs-5/

We can refer to a dictionary. Cambridge is British. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/six-figure-salary

Webster can tell more about American English reality. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/six-figure

We can draw conclusions. Here, we might have a difference between British and American. In British, a "six-figure" is strictly about the digits, how many of those we need to note a number. Cambridge dictionary says "between 100,000 and 999,999". Webster says "totaling 100,000 or more but less than one million".

"Six figure" is not an audit or accountancy term, anyway. Looking to the occurrence and prevalence, we can tell the matter is a bit psychological. Money talk has its own rules. 100 thousand is more as a threshold. You get to the six figures, when you make 100 thousand. Anything above, can be "over six figure". If you have more digits in your numeral and want to go flashy on cash, you can always say "7 figures". :)

-2

The minimum amount Jane makes is £999,999.01 (insert currency symbol of your choice). Anyone attempting to express any other fact with the statement: 'Jane makes over six figures', is being needlessly ambiguous and you probably shouldn't be listening to them anyway.

  • 4
    So, 999,999.00 is not "over six figures" but 999,999.02 is?? – Hot Licks May 10 '16 at 11:31
  • @HotLicks: I guess the idea is that you can drops the 0s from 999,999.00 to express it in six digits (999,999) but you can't do that for any higher number? It seems a bit of a contrived argument to me, since "six figures" isn't usually understood to include figures to the right of the decimal point. – sumelic Nov 16 '17 at 6:40

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