What counts as “almost half”?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 20, 2023, 2:17 PM GMT+0

That would be 45%, according to the British public

A common niggle when it comes to writing about polling results is the descriptive wasteland around the 45% mark.

Written style commonly dictates that you cannot start a sentence with digits, i.e. you could not begin a sentence with “70% of people think…” – a restrictive rule in a line of work like reporting polls.

YouGov house style is to comply with the rule by expressing it as a ratio, i.e. “Seven in ten people think…”. Other style guides would also accept writing the percentage as words, i.e. “Seventy percent of people think…”.

So far, so easy. But what of figures around the 45% mark? Too high to be “four in ten”, too low to be “almost half”, although we have often (disapprovingly) seen many others describing it as such. But are they right to do so? At what point does it become ok to describe a figure as “almost half”?

Now we have finally put the question to the British public and the results, admittedly, take a more permissive view than we ourselves at YouGov have.

The point at which most Britons think it is ok to describe a figure as “almost half” is indeed at 45%. More than six in ten Britons say so (63%), compared to only 31% who disagree.

Britons are also divided on whether or not 44% can also be considered “almost half”: 47% are in favour while 45% are opposed.

The majority of people (56%) agree that 43% is too far from the mid-point mark to be described as “almost half”, but a third don’t consider that seven-point gap to be a sizeable gulf.

Indeed, fully a quarter of Britons (26-27%) are happy to describe 40% and 41% as “almost half”, although two thirds of Britons (67%) beg to differ.

And so it is, based on the results of this poll, YouGov house style will be updated to allow for figures from 45% and up to be described as “almost half”.

For more style guidance based on public opinion, you can also read our study Where do Britons stand on classic grammar debates?

See the full results here

Photo: Getty

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