Home, home on the range

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on May 20, 2010.

Often when writers are trying to illustrate the varied nature of a set of items, they use what’s called a “false range.” This is the construction “everything from … to” or “ranging from … to” that throws in a couple of items to show diversity. The problem is that most of these items don’t fall along a real continuum, a Point-A-to-Point-B line, hence the appellation “false” for the range.

This movie has everything from fistfights to car chases to shootouts.
Really? Everything? Talking animals? Tender romance? Discussions about the nature of existence? Aliens?

The upscale women’s boutique has merchandise ranging from handbags to jewelry.
Just what all is in between handbags and jewelry? Clothes? Nope. Shoes? A few. Sunglasses? Bingo! Fancy pens? Yep — who knew?


The kitchen serves up everything from squid to paella to buffalo.
Again, everything? Even rainbow Jell-O?

Fortunately, there are easy fixes for false ranges.
– Drop any mention of the range: This movie is packed with fistfights, car chases and shootouts.
– Use “include”: The upscale women’s boutique has merchandise including handbags and jewelry.
– Use “a variety of”: The cooks serve up a variety of dishes, such as squid, paella and buffalo.

Sometimes, a range is valid. If you’re talking about “prices ranging from $5 to $50” or “snakes ranging from the tiny ‘Leptotyphlops carlae’ to the giant anaconda” — those are true continuums, and a range is appropriate. You can even use figurative, if cutesy, A-to-Z ranges, since A to Z is an actual range — just be aware that “from Albuquerque to Zanzibar” doesn’t make for particularly inventive writing, and “from Australia to New Zealand” is wrong on a couple of levels.