The lazy and superfluous "and/or"

I’m editing a series of documents whose authors seem to be addicted to the abominable “and/or.” In all of these cases, it is adequately replaced either by “and” or by “or.”

And for those who are confused, both “and” and “or,” depending on the context, often encompass the meaning of “and/or.” Your readers aren’t stupid, people!

I use it all the time. You can’t stop me. :stuck_out_tongue:

This thread sucks and/or blows.

I try to use it only when it’s appropriate and/or when it’s funny.

What the hell did I call this. “Plant’s Principle”? If you admit to disliking something, you will be beaten to death with it. For example, if I were dumb enough to admit that I detest being call “Plant” the next seventy five posters will call me that.

Oh, Hell.

What kind of plant are you? Like, a pitcher plant, or a waterwheel plant, a Venus Flytrap, a sundew, or what? I think your lack of specificity and/or unwillingness to adapt to new conditions and/or stimuli may undermine the attempt to get other posters to address and/or refer to you by your full name.


I am a grower and collector of CPs. A hobbyist.

So, you’re a grower and/or collector and/or hobbyist. Good to know.

I disagree.

To me “and/or” implies that the preference is both but either will suffice. It’s a compound condition.

That’s how I use it.

Huh. And here I was thinking he was carnivorous and/or a plant. Go figure.

ducks and/or runs

I don’t think that it’s lazy and/or superfluous. “And” by itself indicates that both of the things referenced are present. “Or” by itself indicates that one or the other is present, but not both (talking about the linguistic usage of or, not the computer usage). If either one by itself or both together could possibly be present, then “and/or” is called for. The following three sentences each have a different meaning.

“Bruce or Joan will be at the meeting.”
“Bruce and Joan will be at the meeting.”
“Bruce and/or Joan will be at the meeting.”

Logical “or” could be used in place of every “and/or”, but the general use of “or” in English is exclusive or, choose one or the other. It’s distinguishable in spoken English, but it can be more difficult in writing.

Consider the “Would you like soup or salad” question when you order a meal that comes with a choice. You can’t just say “yes” to the question unless you want the waitress to smile (not with her eyes) at your immense cleverness, and possibly get spit in your food. The question is asked with almost a full stop after “soup” to let you know that it’s one of your two options. Now compare that to the question at a fancier place, that offers each dish separately. The question in this case, though using the same words, is more fluid, the rising tone continuing through to the end to let you know that it’s one question with several options available to you. A few restaurants have taken to asking with the former tone but charging like the latter to upsell their customers, and they should all experience the pain of fire and/or brimstone.

But in writing, you have to explicitly specify which “or” you mean. You could write something like “x or y but not both” for exclusive or, or you can use “x and/or y” or “x or y or both” for logical or. But to be precise, you have to do one or the other.

Clearly, we should all start talking in propositional calculus. This would have the side benefit of rendering multilevel marketing promoters, White House spokespeople, and the vast majority of talk radio hosts speechless.


Of course, we’d feel awfully silly when it came time to do the great many things done with language beyond simply asserting propositions.

As for the apparent superfluousness of “and/or”, as with a surprising number of such issues, Language Log already says most of what needs to be said; of particular note is the initial post about the semantics of “and/or” and why one would want to use it, as well as some later posts forcefully arguing against the view that the “or” of natural English is best understood as generally an exclusive or.

Re-expressing the argument linked above, while it may be the case that offers expressed using “or” are typically exclusive disjunctions or something similar, it simply isn’t the case that the default use of “or” in English is exclusive. Consider, for example, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?”. A lifelong Communist couldn’t honestly answer “no” on the grounds that both disjuncts were true, as he would be able to were this “or” meant to designate exclusive disjunction. Or, suppose I bet you a hundred bucks that the next President of the United States will be male or white; you’d be stupid to take this bet. Even if McCain won, you’d be laughed out the door if you attempted to argue that I should therefore be paying you, on account of both disjuncts having come out true. Similar examples abound; one could go on constructing them all day. There’s not really any very good reason to hold that English “or” defaults to exclusive semantics.

Clearly, the English language needs to adopt the word “xor” and get rid of the ambiguity .

That’s not how I see it being used. I’ve never seen it used in a situation that expresses a preference for “and.”

Exactly! I often resort to and/or to convey version #3 as opposed to version #1.

“Either Bruce or Joan will be at the meeting.”
“Both Bruce and Joan will be at the meeting.”
“Bruce, Joan, or both will be at the meeting.”

Wow, that is awkward and not just a little ambiguous phrasing.