Question:

I told my friend I was going to interview between six to nine participants for my project. She says that I’m using the word between wrong. Am I?

Here’s how to use the word between

The short answer
Your friend is correct—for two reasons. 

The details
The big issue is that perhaps you should not be using between at all. As well, the syntax is off because the preposition to is incorrect.

Think of the common phrase “between you and me.” It illustrates that the separator should be and, not to. Here are two more examples of correct usage:

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower—Steve Jobs
The main difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives—Mark Twain

Use “between X and X,” not ”between X–X” or “between X to X.”

It seems so natural and obvious to say “between you and me” or “between a rock and a hard place,” or the like, that you might think this style point is rather elementary.

Yet here at Editarians, we consistently see this phrase flubbed by otherwise strong writers. The common error is to write the construction “between X–X” when referring to a range.

For example:

  • I planned to interview between 5–15 participants.
  • Each focus group session lasted between 45–60 minutes.
  • We conducted our study between September–November, 2017.

Two problems here, folks.

Each of the examples given above has two issues that need fixing.

First, the dash stands for the word to, not the word and. Just as you wouldn’t say “between you to me,” you shouldn’t say “between 5 to 15 participants.”

Second, when writing a range, it’s better to use the construction “from X to X” (or “from X–X”). Technically speaking, “between X and X” does not include the endpoints, so “between 5 and 15” participants really means “6 to 14 participants.” Although many people would not read the sentence this way, choosing your words carefully is important in academic papers.

Our corrected sentences would now read as follows:

  1. I planned to interview from 5 to 15 participants.
  2. Each focus group session lasted from 45 to 60 minutes.
  3. We conducted our study from September to November, 2017.
Italian Proverb: Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out.

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