In many languages we usually say "between min and max" (e.g., grades "between 1 and 10").

Are there any languages where the reverse construction ("between max and min", e.g. grades "between 10 and 1") is used?

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    – Keelan
    Aug 6, 2019 at 9:26
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    What sorts of constructions are you willing to consider? I've been searching high and low for examples... :) Aug 6, 2019 at 21:02
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    As a place for someone else to research or remember, I have heard that Native Americans (at least one group in the Midwest) say things like "I like 3 or 2 flavors of ice cream" instead of "2 or 3". This may be formalized in those languages
    – Cireo
    Aug 7, 2019 at 6:44
  • There's an UP/DOWN metaphor theme involved here, possibly in connection with a PATH metaphor theme.
    – jlawler
    Aug 8, 2019 at 22:58

4 Answers 4


In German, I am aware of two instances where the "reverse" order is used:

1) The weather forecast of the newscast "Tagesschau" (and quite possibly many other weather forecasts, but not all) always states the range of lowest expected temperatures with the higest number first. From today's 8pm broadcast:

In der Nacht 19 bis 12 Grad; am Tag 18 Grad im südwestlichen Bergland, 27 in der Niederlausitz.


At night, 19 to 12 degrees [celsius]; during the day, 18 degrees in the southwestern uplands, 27 degrees in Lower Lusatia.

I is used very consistently. Here are the archived broadcasts of the last few days.:

If you understand a little bit of German, you can listen out for the numbers and for the word "Grad" (degrees).

Usage of this ordering goes back a long way. See for example this 1983 recording:

Tiefsttemperaturen 5 bis 1, Tageshöchsttemperaturen 7[!] bis 12 Grad

yes, he says 7, even though the thermometer graphic displays 9

However, these even older recordings use "standard ordering":

December 30, 1973

Im Norden Tiefsttemperaturen 1 bis 5 Grad, Tageshöchsttemperaturen 4 bis 7 [cut off]

July 30, 1979

Tiefsttemperaturen in der Nacht 11 bis 15 Grad, Tageshöchsttemperaturen 20 bis 25 Grad, nur im Norden etwas weniger.

2) Some cities (particularly those with inconsistent numbering schemes) add house number range information to all or some of their street name signs. The house number that is closest to the location of the sign is stated first, followed by the last house number before the next (major) intersection, which often results in the larger number coming first. This Berlin-style sign shows for example "56 – 48".

  • Funny, I never noticed that. Wonder why they do it this way. Aug 7, 2019 at 11:57
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    @leftaroundabout I guess because at night the temperature normally goes down and not up. that's why we say from 19 to 12 degrees in the night. means: as the night goes on, it gets colder. (Again, only a guess)
    – slow
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:24
  • If that's true, it's not really describing a range, it's describing a progression. I expect we'd say it similarly in English, "the temperature will drop from 70 to 60 during the night."
    – Barmar
    Aug 7, 2019 at 17:12
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    @sLw I think the 19 and 12 degrees are both minima, at different locations - not a progression at one location.
    – Keelan
    Aug 7, 2019 at 18:11
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    For case 1), it is not a ‘normal range’. The direction is important, it’s saying ‘it goinge down to 5 degrees, or even 1 if you’re in the coldest spot’. In a way, it is a mirrored range, and the lower mirrored value, the one closer to normal is put first, followed by the greater value, farther away from normal. And for case 2), this is common on the signs, but not a feature of the language. Aug 8, 2019 at 8:35

There are, presumably in all languages, situations where the top limit is mentioned first. For example, we may talk about "between 10 and 20 metres below sea level".

So this seems to be primarily a matter of which limit is felt 'closer' to the speaker (and that would be the limit that is mentioned first). Because we normally count up, the lower limit is more likely to be the first to be mentioned and would also be the default if not one of the limits is felt 'closer'.

Also in the example of grades "between 1 and 10", you could argue that 1 is the easiest to obtain and therefore 'closer' to the speaker (I would be interested to know whether Americans say "grades from F to A" or "from A to F", because that could falsify this claim).

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    In terms of grades of achievement for public examinations, in England (& Wales), the Edexcel Mathematics GCSE specification states: "The qualification will be graded and certificated on a nine-grade scale from 9 to 1 using the total mark across all three papers where 9 is the highest grade", and then for the tiering states "Foundation tier: grades 1 to 5" and also "Higher tier: grades 4 to 9 (grade 3 allowed)".
    – Michaelyus
    Aug 6, 2019 at 14:01
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    While not really a question of "upper" and "lower" limits, exits on highways in the US are often numbered, and if you're travelling toward the end of the highway where the exit numbers start, traffic reports for that direction will often say things like "congestion from (e.g.,) exit 31 to 15". Aug 6, 2019 at 15:08
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    In “between 10 and 20 metres below sea level”, 20 metres is still the top limit, even if it’s further down below the surface. Of course there can always be some external factor that makes it relevant to specify the upper limit first, but as I understand the question, it is about giving ‘neutral’ ranges; for example, would any language naturally say, “We talked to each for about ten to five minutes” (instead of “five to ten minutes”)? I suspect the ‘proximity’ factor you mention is fairly universal and the answer is no, but I don’t know. Aug 6, 2019 at 18:03
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    @JeffZeitlin : We similarly have some dates backwards, as ‘Cleopatra (69–30 BCE)’. Aug 6, 2019 at 20:01
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    This doesn't answer the question, it just justifies the English formulation. Referencing physical realities, like the fact that 20 meters below sea level is "lower" than 10, doesn't change the fact that 20 is more than 10, and thus it was mentioned last. Are there any languages that use a formulation like "between 20 and 10", regardless of unit?
    – Alek Storm
    Aug 7, 2019 at 4:44

In Japanese, you often have this construct as well. An example is "100分の1is" one of 100 parts (lit: 100 parts and 1) for fractions. You tend to bound problem as well when you are speaking in regard to mathematics. I generally give the limits of equations before I discuss the points; however, that could just specific to the discipline of mathematics in Japanese.

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    I assume you mean 分 (bun), not 部.
    – Nardog
    Aug 7, 2019 at 14:45
  • @Nardog oops, yeah. will update. phone entry. :/
    – b degnan
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:02
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    A fraction is not really a range, though - does this occur in ranges, too?
    – Keelan
    Aug 7, 2019 at 18:12
  • @Keelan 100以内の5. 5 bounded by 100. When you describe limits in calculus, you'll bound it. Sadly, my Japanese is mostly in a technical context.
    – b degnan
    Aug 7, 2019 at 22:53

I'm not sure whether this should be an answer, since it's not about numerical ranges, but there are definitely certain idioms in English that seem to put the "greater" extreme first, such as:

  • high and low (e.g., I've been searching high and low…)
  • top to bottom (although, for some things, like written text in English, top to bottom could still be "lower" to "higher", just as "from the top" means "from the beginning")
  • head to toe

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