Grammar What About and/or? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

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.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

31 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?

    • When used with negative words such as no, not, and never, the word or does not indicate a choice or uncertainty. Therefore, both sentences are grammatically correct.

    • RonS says:

      Another way to recast the sentence using and is to write, “School will be closed on Tuesday and Thursday.”

  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. 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

  8. samuel Awo says:

    I used the statement “It has been observed that some Sales reps do not issue and/or record on ledger cards when transactions are carried out in trade.” I want to know if I am wrong.

    • As the post states, we recommend avoiding and/or wherever possible in formal writing. It seems that you could substitute or for and/or with no appreciable change in meaning.
      We’ve noted that some sales reps do not issue or record on ledger cards when transactions are carried out in trade.

  9. Cindy Breed says:

    In following CMS advice to avoid the use of and/or, I end up with the following sentence in my local history book manuscript about a house. CMS says to put a comma before “or both” but in their example, “or both” ends the sentence. I’ve considered putting this sentence in the active voice, but prefer to lead with the tenant/employee than with the owner/employer. What do you recommend?

    1. In 1848 one Alexander Horton, probably of Templeton, was housed or employed, or both, by Luke Brooks. [set off “or both” with commas]

    2. In 1848 one Alexander Horton, probably of Templeton, was housed, or employed, or both by Luke Brooks. [treat as a series and use the Oxford comma.]

    3. In 1848 one Alexander Horton, probably of Templeton, was housed or employed, or both by Luke Brooks. [comma before “or both” but not after]

    4. In 1848 one Alexander Horton, probably of Templeton, was housed or employed or both by Luke Brooks. [’nuff commas already]

  10. Allan McHenry says:

    What about this on a US Government form to be completed:

    “Enter Telephone (include country code), FAX, and/or Email Address”

    Do I need to enter a telephone number AND fax (or email)? Or just enter one of the requested items? All definitions of “and/or” depict a choice between two items, not three.

    • It’s ambiguous, isn’t it? This is a good example of why we recommend avoiding and/or wherever possible. We would enter a phone number and either a fax number or email address.

  11. F. E. Pande says:

    Some sentences only communicate the intended meaning with “and/ or,” for example, “we can have secure workplaces, free of injured employees and/ or legally implicated employers,” substituting it for either “and” or “or” will completely change the intended communication. For instance, we may have one of either “injured employees” or “legally implicated employers,” or, and we may have both.

    • As a matter of style, we would advise avoiding the construction “and/or” in formal writing, as either word can often achieve the work of both. This is particularly true of “or,” which often includes the meaning of “and.” Consider the following:

      We can have secure workplaces free of injured employees or legally implicated employers.

      Within this context, we can infer that “or” suggests both groups are included. Using “or” further allows the interpretation that the groups might be in different proportions at different times, where “and” might suggest equal timing and distribution.

      At the same time, we acknowledge that some writers might prefer even greater delineation for extra clarity. In this case, we would still forgo “and/or” and treat the sentence as follows:

      We can have secure workplaces free of injured employees or legally implicated employers or both.

  12. Beth says:

    These solutions only work with binary options. What if you want to say you can have any combination of three or four choices?

    • says:

      It seems that a vertical list might be an option.
      You can have any combination of three or four of the following:
      – text
      – text
      – text, and
      – text

  13. roger hendrickson says:

    In 2016, our city voted on a referendum, “Shall the city be authorized to impose a local option sales tax of one half of one percent for 25 years or until $15,000,000 in revenues have been generated, for the purpose of funding recreational amenities, trails and/or a new Community Center?”

    My personal belief is that this is ambiguous, and slightly illegal, since we already have recreational amenities and trails to maintain in town, and a Community Center would be a new construction.

  14. DocBrown says:

    Thanks for the reference. My problem with the backslash is why the backslash? If necessary, and or, without the backslash, or as your “pop quiz” answers show, only one of the two words is needed in those sentences. Thanks again.

    • says:

      The article does not favor the slash unless it is inescapable to proper meaning (i.e., most uses are unclear and superfluous). The pop quiz aims to help direct writers toward writing without “and/or”; rather, writers should decide on one conjunction or the other.

  15. Gerard Morris says:

    Does “Discuss time, place and/or context” mean that:
    You may discuss any one of those three choices, OR
    You have to discuss time and place but context is optional, OR
    You may discuss any two of those choices, OR
    You may discuss all three of those choices?

    • says:

      Your sentence is a good example of why we recommend avoiding and/or wherever possible. It is open to interpretation.

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