I've encountered following phrase:

a vocabulary of between 10,000 and 15,000 words

Is this phrase correct? Can of be followed by between in this case?

  • 9
    Yes, it's fine. What makes you think it might not be?
    – Jim
    May 1, 2012 at 15:01
  • 3
    I don't like answers (see below) which are based on graphs or are just a list of dictionary entries. If this site becomes a show off of skills in looking up Google sources, in my opinion it loses its appeal.
    – Paola
    May 1, 2012 at 16:23
  • 3
    Paola -- it's called evidence-based research. What would you prefer-- divine revelation? May 1, 2012 at 18:19
  • 1
    @Paola: Graphs are fine, and entries are fine, so long as they support some larger, overarching insight, as opposed to being hastily assembled and posted by themselves. I think we're in agreement on that?
    – J.R.
    May 1, 2012 at 20:03
  • 1
    @J.R. Absolutely. I do not mind graphs per se, although I prefer quotations to them; what I resent is the increasing presence of answers which do not provide any personal contribution.
    – Paola
    May 1, 2012 at 20:44

5 Answers 5


Yes, it is grammatical but a little informal. 'of between' looks unnatural because of the two adjacent prepositions. A more formal way of saying it would be:

a vocabulary ranging between 10,000 and 15,000

The informality of the original 'a vocabulary of between...' comes from treating the prepositional phrase 'between X and Y' as an object, as a range. How big is the vocabulary? Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000. It is a vocabulary of that range, or

a vocabulary (of (between 10,000 and 15,000))

There are other instance of adjacent prepositions at the beginning of a prepositional phrase, but they seem to be of a different sort than this 'range' example. There's 'out of' and 'in to' and one could think of 'into' and 'upon' as the same sort. These examples seem to have evolved from reduplication for emphasis.

The phenomenon of a 'phrasal verb' followed by a prepositional phrase is also quite different. "She dashed off to her room.", where the 'off' 'dashed off' is part of the verb.

  • 2
    I think this answers the question well. We wouldn't blink at "a catch of 15 fish" so why should we flinch at "a catch of between 10 and 20 fish"?
    – J.R.
    May 1, 2012 at 16:09
  • 2
    Honestly, I think you're looking for problems that don't exist. It's quite usual and acceptable to say "of between...", "of up to...", "of around..." etc, where "of" takes another prepositional phrase expressing a range/limit. I don't quite see the need to single out "of between..." for special treatment/denouncement. May 1, 2012 at 18:18
  • @NeilCoffey: Can "of" be followed by "between"? (That's the O.P.'s question, not mine; I think that's why it's being singled out so much.) That said, I agree with you, and I do like how this answer gave some extra discussion about consecutive prepositions in general.
    – J.R.
    May 1, 2012 at 20:08
  • @NeilCoffey: The problem exists for the OP probably because it is very easy to see the almost universal 'rule' that a preposition is directly followed by a noun phrase. Except just looking at how people speak, it seems that that is too strict a labeling.
    – Mitch
    May 1, 2012 at 20:42
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    @Mitch, my only comment is that "ranging between" implies that the actual number is variable but always falls between the limits specified, whereas the OP's original was an estimate of a single number rather than an expression of range. To be fair, I suppose a person's vocabulary is not quite fixed as words come and go from a person's recall and therefore does 'range' a bit, but probably not +/-2500 words.
    – Jim
    May 2, 2012 at 0:45

Perhaps the person asking the original question wonders whether "a vocabulary between 10,000 and 15,000 words" (omitting "of") is sufficient--or indeed preferable to "a vocabulary of between 10,000 and 15,000 words." I frequently see sentences that omit "of" in similar circumstances--for example, "Stores sell them at prices up to $1000," instead of "Stores sell them at prices of up to $1000."

If that's the issue, I would say that including "of" is better than omitting it, on the theory that making an implied preposition explicit is better than requiring readers to infer it.


"... vocabulary of between ..." has 3,850 hits on Google Books. So, we can say that the phrase is correct.

Furthermore, analogous 'structures' (of followed by between) have many hits on Google Books:

  • "... time of between ..."; 55,700 hits (These periodicities ranged between .022 and .10 Hz, which corresponds to a cycle time of between 45 and 10 seconds), Time and human cognition: a life-span perspective;

  • "... length of between ..."; 63,200 hits (...having an average length of between 70 and 135 mm.), Industrial Applications of Natural Fibres: Structure, Properties ...;

  • "... area of between ..."; 75,700 hits (... said spring metal wires having a silhouette area of between about 17% a '. about 75% of the area of said assembly, the em, ty space between the coated wires occupying from about 2% to about 75 % of the area of the assembly), Official gazette of the United States Patent Office: Patents: Volume 927;

  • "... volume of between ..."; 33,000 hits (Depending upon the manufacturer, the engine had a swept volume of between 2.9 and 3 .5 litres ...), The encyclopedia of weapons of World War II.

The following references are referred to your specific case (vocabulary of between):

Grammar and writing - Page 10, Rebecca Stott, Peter Chapman []
"... speakers and writers we have already acquired the following: • a vocabulary of between 40000 and 50000 words and an ability to understand about half as many again • at least a thousand aspects of grammatical construction, ..."

The Royal Society of Medicine encyclopedia of children's health - Page 203, Robert Youngson, Royal Society of Medicine (Great Britain) []
"The average toddler of 18 months has a vocabulary of between 20 and 50 words, depending ..."

English Language and Literary Criticism - Page 117, A.s. Kharbe []
"A Pidgin is characterized by a small vocabulary of between a few hundred and a thousand ..."

  • 3
    See my comment to the accepted answer. Your inference is also incorrect, but I notice you lopped off the unpleasant early part of the line graph, the one that produced no result at all. This is called cherry-picking in statistics, and it's a bad thing.
    – Robusto
    May 1, 2012 at 15:24
  • 1
    Why -1 on my edited answer? Please, could the downvoter explain.
    – user19148
    May 1, 2012 at 15:50
  • 1
    @Carlo_R. probably you got it because there of the ngram you had there before, or because you are giving no explanation, or maybe because there are all sorts of reasons a trigram could appear many times in ngrams only one of them being 'it is a grammatical'.
    – Mitch
    May 1, 2012 at 16:00
  • 1
    @Carlo_R.: what is 'Pagina'? I'm guessing it is 'page' in Italian. So you're using some kind of Italian search engine? That might trip you up in your quotes...you might be cut and pasting things that won't be understood by many users here. Also, If you're cut and pasting, you probably want to give the link to the original, too.
    – Mitch
    May 1, 2012 at 16:14
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    @Carlo_R. Thanks for the links. But what are you trying to say by these examples? They seem to be from a search for grammar and 'vocabulary of between' (there's nothing special about 'vocabulary' but it does help with specificity) but 3 examples don't tell me it's right or meaningful or anything. LLook at the context (not the titles) in a google books search for in of to. Obviously a nongrammatical sequence, but many examples.
    – Mitch
    May 1, 2012 at 17:00

I don't see a problem. It conveys a coherent idea.

Suppose the writer said, "He has a vocabularly of 10,000 words." That would certainly be a perfectly valid sentence. So the writer wants to indicate a range. He writes, "... a vocabularly of between 10,000 and 15,000 words".

I don't think there's any rule that you can't have two prepositions in a row. (Or if there is, it should be ignored.) How about, "The plane fell FROM ABOVE the clouds"? Where did it fall from? It fell from a place above the clouds.

"I ran TO NEAR exhaustion." I didn't run to exhaustion, but to a state near it.



Yes, it is correct usage.

Here is the Google Ngram graph for of between for 1700-2008:

enter image description here

  • 3
    Closer, but still not proof of anything. Also, if you use a chart it must be in support of a contention. What is yours?
    – Robusto
    May 1, 2012 at 15:27
  • 1
    This answer is not helpful in answering the question. The fact that there is some incidence of the phrase "of between" (taken as is, without any other context) in the corpus of books used by Google for the N-gram viewer has no obvious significance to me. Do be aware that the N-gram viewer assumptions state that results are meaningful for the interval 1800-2000 only. Also, there is no way of knowing whether the y-axis values are of sufficient magnitude to infer anything or not. May 26, 2012 at 12:27

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