Learn English – “Three quarters” vs. “three fourths”


To express a fraction of 3 out of 4, how and when would you use three quarters, and when would you use three fourths?

To me, three quarters is what I would have used all the time — but I'm not a native English speaker, so I'm not sure. I did come across three fourths, but wasn't sure if that's something used in certain geographies and/or fields of expertise, or whether that's just a slightly too literal translation of another non-native speaker.

Are there certain walks of life, certain fields of expertise that would use three fourths instead? Or is this a question of geography (e.g. used in New Zealand, but not elsewhere)?

Best Answer

I did the obligatory Ngram, and found two things:

I then perused through some of the results of a book search, and I found instances of three-fourths in a wide array of contexts, such as:

  • three-fourths of representatives and senators had served fewer than 12 years
  • the iceberg towers 10 stories, with three-fourths of its mass beneath the water
  • three-fourths of the score was based on the quality
  • some organizations require a three-fourths vote instead of a two-thirds vote in adopting certain types of business
  • directly behind the center of Billow's corps was formed three fourths of Pirch's corps, fifteen thousand men
  • for young people overall, approximately three-fourths of all mortality can be attributed to four causes
  • the cast and crew returned to Los Angeles with three-fourths of the film finished
  • an aggregate area of more than three-fourths inch in diameter
  • the ratio of 3:4 is the diatessaron or fourth, producing an octave lute that is three-fourths the length of the descant, which in turn is three-fourths the length of the tenor

In short, I couldn't figure out any rule where three-fourths would be considered an inappropriate substitute for three-quarters; it seems usable whether we are talking about a fraction of a sample size, a quorum, a completion rate, or how much pizza is left in the box.

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