A co-worker asked a riddle that got me wondering about the anatomy of books and book binding methods.

The Riddle:

A leaf is torn from a paperback novel. The sum of the remaining page numbers is 15,000. What pages were torn out?

According to the answer (and a lot of the internet), it claimed that a leaf:

is a single sheet bound in a book, and a leaf has two pages.

I thought this assumption was vague and that a leaf can either have two pages or four pages depending on how it is bound. This assumption also changes the answer of the riddle.

Leaf with two page binding:
Two page binding

Leaf with four page binding:
Four page binding

Are both definitions of a book leaf correct? Or is there only one? Is one more commonly assumed than the other?


A quick Google search revealed that

Very generally, "leaves" refers to the pages of a book, as in the common phrase, "loose-leaf pages."

A leaf is a single sheet bound in a book, and a leaf has two pages. (Source: Biblio)

A folded grouping of leaves is a "gathering", so the left image under "leaf with 4 pages" in your question is actually a gathering of 4 leaves (8 pages). The right hand image is a gathering of 2 leaves (4 pages)

Note that if you tear one leaf out of a bound book, as books are more commonly bound in gatherings, often one other leaf will also become loose, and maybe fall out — especially if the leaf torn out is in the centre of a gathering. But that is a separate leaf, not the other half of the same.

  • I think your counting is off. The term refers to the front and back of a half sheet as one page, even though numbered it'd be two pages. So the picture would be 1 gathering, 2 leafs, 4 pages, 8 numbered pages.
    – user24
    May 7 '18 at 4:59
  • 1
    @CreationEdge - No. If you have 8 numbered pages in 1 gathering you have 4 leaves. May 7 '18 at 8:07
  • 2
    According to U of Wisconsin, the English Language Stacke Exchange and wikipedia, a leaf has two sides and each side is considered one page.
    – Wimateeka
    May 7 '18 at 12:32
  • Which matches what I said @Wimateeka May 7 '18 at 13:57
  • 1
    I see the confusion I'm having here, it's the phrase "single sheet bound in a book", yet the illustration we're looking at isn't loose-leaf, so a "single sheet" is actually forming two leaves. A better quote for you here is from the ANSI /NISO/ LBI Library Binding Standard, Z39.78-2000: A single sheet of paper, or one half of a folded sheet of paper. Each side of the leaf is a page. Leaves can be printed or blank.
    – user24
    May 7 '18 at 17:56

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