What About and/or?



Our recent article about the slash (/) garnered interesting responses, none more fascinating than the email informing us that in several English-speaking countries, “slash” is a raunchy slang term.

A couple of readers inquired about and/or, for obvious reasons. Grammar books generally disregard the slash, but most of them have a lot to say about and/or.

In the 1920s the renowned English scholar H.W. Fowler dismissed and/or as an “ugly device” that may be “common and convenient in some kinds of official, legal, and business documents, but should not be allowed outside them.” Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style says and/or “damages a sentence and often leads to confusion or ambiguity.” Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage calls and/or an “ungraceful expression” that “has no right to intrude in ordinary prose.”

Several authorities recommend replacing and/or with or alone. As Follett points out, “generally or includes and. The weatherman’s snow or sleet tomorrow is no guarantee that we shall have only the one or the other.” The following contemporary sentences could substitute or for and/or with no appreciable change in meaning: “Have you forgotten your user name and/or password?” “Candidates can submit new and/or additional documentation.”

However in certain sentences, or by itself cannot replace and/or, as seen in this example from Theodore M. Bernstein’s The Careful Writer: “The law allows a $25 fine and/or thirty days in jail.” Fowler offers a straightforward alternative: “x or y or both of them.” Let’s try it with Bernstein’s sentence: “The law allows a $25 fine or thirty days in jail or both.” Problem solved.

Some and/or sentences cannot be justified under any circumstances. Consider this one, courtesy of a grammar website: “You can get to the campus for this morning’s meeting on a bike and/or in a car.” Did you catch it? You can take a bike or a car but you wouldn’t take both, so there is no excuse for the and/.

The slash these days is a shiny toy that everyone wants to play with. This may explain in part why and/or, with its ersatz air of authority, is more popular than ever. The culture’s bewildering infatuation with slash formations turns off a lot of writers, who go to great lengths to avoid them. Nonetheless, if in the course of your own writing you find one of those rare occasions that a slash is called for, by all means use it.

 

Pop Quiz

Can you banish and/or from these sentences? Suggested alternatives are below.

1. No, Virginia, having more people and/or businesses will not get you lower taxes.
2. Consider whether the audience will be able to view and/or understand the illustration easily.
3. Here is how to change your password and/or update your email address.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. No, Virginia, having more people or businesses will not get you lower taxes.
2. Consider whether the audience will be able to view and understand the illustration easily.
3. Here is how to change your password, update your email address, or both.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014, at 6:58 pm

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17 Comments on What About and/or?

17 responses to “What About and/or?”

  1. Ann M. says:

    How about this solution for your #3 Pop Quiz sentence? “Here is how to change or update your password and email address.” I think it works better than the suggested “or both” after thought.

    As always, I really enjoy your e-newsletter. I rarely actually learn that I employ incorrect grammar, but it makes me think about why I write the way I do. Even more important, it helps me to be on the lookout for places where I let down my guard and inadvertently succumb to hoi polloi devices.

    • In the pop quiz directions, we included the sentence “Suggested alternatives are below.” We assumed readers would come up with other acceptable solutions, and yours is certainly one of them.
      Thank you for the kind words.

  2. Allan G. says:

    Your example near the end of the article using bike and/or car can be altered slightly and validate the and. Simply substitute bus for car and you have a condition where both apply. I have ridden on buses where you bring your bike to the bus stop, load it onto a rack and then take a bus ride to where you are going.

    Thanks for all the great reading and knowledge.

    • In the Pop Quiz directions, we included the sentence “Suggested alternatives are below.” We assumed readers would come up with other acceptable solutions. In your case, you also changed the premise of the question, and then arrived at an acceptable solution.

      Thank you for the kind words.

  3. diane civitelli says:

    There is no school Tuesday OR Thursday sounds correct to me, but my ESL students were confused and thought AND should have been used because OR suggests a choice and in this case there is none.
    Saying—there is no school Tuesday AND Thursday doesn’t sound right. Possibly because the days are not consecutive?

  4. Shirley says:

    I’m after some clarification with the usage of ‘and or ‘or’ following ‘such as’ in the following sentence:

    Adopting a healthier lifestyle means you will have more vitality for the things you enjoy, such as helping your children and spending time with your family.

    Why is it an ‘and’ and not ‘or’? What if you don’t enjoy both things?

    • The difference between “and” or “or” seems negligible in this case; both make sense. If you “don’t enjoy both things,” you wouldn’t mention the thing you don’t like in this particular sentence.

  5. mh says:

    Which usage is correct, a space after a “/” mark or not? I’ve seen many words, that run on in a long stream that make it hard to read. I suggested, for clarity, to use spacing but was told otherwise. I disagree with that and the usage of the word “actual” or “actually.” Neither ever seem to change the sentence meaning.

  6. Daniel says:

    What happens when you have three options connected by and/ar? For example: “If the pH, temperature and/or pO2 values are out of the reference values, start the corresponding deviation and indicate…”.
    In this case you connot use (…)or both.
    Thanks! Love your newsletters.

  7. Warren Stanwix says:

    Given the / (slash) shows logically the alternates as in he/she to be he or she, then by applying it as the alternate for X and/or Y reads X and or or Y – rather senseless. So just write X and or Y to provide the clear choices of X or Y, or both.

    What about writers that use or as:
    *) an inclusive or (either one)?
    *) an exclusive or (either one or the other)?

    I wonder how English text types would clearly, very briefly and easily best be written to communicate logic where the logic is akin to say that of logic gates. I am not saying describe the reasoning of the gates but to use the rational applied to alternates /, and or, and / or.

    There are seven basic logic gates: AND, OR, XOR, NOT, NAND, NOR, and XNOR. What happens in an English text if you have logic of:
    *) X AND OR Y?
    *) X AND OR OR Y?

    • We’re not sure we’re completely following you here, but we would say that, in regard to X AND OR Y, we would prefer seeing that expressed in English text as x or y or both of them. As for X AND OR OR Y, we agree with you that it’s senseless.
      Feel free to clarify if we’ve missed your point, and others may also feel free to chime in.

  8. Bobbie Sheets says:

    My attorney husband just called to ask me (his retired English teacher wife) a question about subject-verb agreement when using and/or as the conjunction joining the two subjects. Since this is a question referring to a legal document, I was not positive of a correct answer. For example: If Dell and/or Apple terminate/terminates (?) this contract, … Your thoughts, please?

    • We recommend avoiding the use of and/or in formal prose. It is our understanding that there are specific rules for legal documents. We suggest consulting a legal style manual.

      Having said that, from a grammatical standpoint, it seems highly likely that “and/” is unnecessary in your example. Since “or” is present, then if either one terminates the contract, the consequences ensue. We would recommend either:
      If either Dell or Apple terminates this contract … OR (following Bernstein’s suggestion)
      If Dell or Apple or both terminate this contract

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