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As a programmer, I have no problem with seeing or using "and/or" in technical documentation. For example,

I can upvote an answer that satisfies me and/or mark it as accepted.

That's perfectly good English to me. However, if I were writing a novel, or even just an essay, or — heaven forbid — a poem, "and/or" would seem extremely out of place.

My question is, what should I be using instead? (I solemnly swear I will not use that knowledge to actually write a poem.)

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If only there was a way to submit a feature request for the language, this would be a good suggestion. The word 'aor' isn't in use yet, that would make a good substitute. –  JohnFx Aug 22 '10 at 16:04
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@JohnFx: In boolean logic, 'or' means 'and/or'. We really want to be saing 'XOR' most of the time! :) –  Noldorin Aug 22 '10 at 17:42
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@Shinto: I disagree: John and Mark are over 6 feet tall. No 'or' meaning there. Often we do mean XOR by 'or': Either John or Mark is at Harvard this fall. (I'm not sure which one, but it's not both.) –  moioci Aug 24 '10 at 2:58
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@moioci: that is completely beside the point. The point is that and/or can be replaced with "and" or "or". –  delete Aug 24 '10 at 13:23
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@Shinto Sherlock: and/or cannot be replaced by and. It can only be replaced by "or" and then you are counting on the reader to infer the inclusive sense. Sometimes it's better to be clear. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 27 '10 at 14:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Here are a few alternatives to the example you provided that avoid the stroke (forward slash). Pick whichever one you like!

  1. I can upvote an answer that satisfies me, mark it as accepted, or do both.
  2. I can do either or both of up-voting and marking as accepted the answer that satisfies me.
  3. I can do either or both of up-voting the answer that satisfies me and marking it as accepted.

They are all grammatically correct, though perhaps 2. and 3. are a bit more convoluted, for the sake of logical clarity.

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I believe that “or both” at the end of the sentence is the most practical of the three, so I vote for the first too. –  ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ Aug 22 '10 at 22:38
    
Yeah, I agree. 1. is definitely the most practical, 2. and 3. (while perfectly correct) are a bit artificial. –  Noldorin Aug 23 '10 at 12:14
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2 and 3 are perfectly acceptable if you write specs for w3.org –  Pacerier Jun 17 '11 at 20:39
    
Here are some words that rhyme with both for when @RegDwightѬſ道 writes that poem. –  Pureferret Jan 11 '12 at 16:50
    
@Pacerier: Hah, well precisely! –  Noldorin Jan 11 '12 at 23:46

"And/or" is actually a fairly stupid expression, since the English words "and" or "or" aren't as exact or exclusive as this expression seems to imply. For example,

I like coconuts and steaks

doesn't necessarily mean "I like coconuts and steaks at the same time".

Here,

I can upvote an answer that satisfies me and/or mark it as accepted.

could just as well be

I can upvote an answer that satisfies me or mark it as accepted.

In the context of a normal piece of writing, there are very few people, except argumentative weirdos, who will take that to mean that you can't do both of those things.

If you desperately need to emphasize that both things are possible then Noldorin has answered that in detail.

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and/or is an important expression because many times the word or implies "exclusive or". "Would you like coffee or tea?" "You may go left or right." If the writer needs to succinctly ensure that an inclusive meaning is read the phrase and/or conveys that. "You will be fined and/or jailed." In technical contexts (like laws or contracts) it is a perfectly good way of writing that meaning. In an essay or novel it is not really an appropriate style. As for your argumentative weirdos comment, I disagree that it's impossible for someone to misunderstand "I can upvote or mark as accepted". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 27 '10 at 14:08
    
I laid those words as a careful trap for you, Mr. Shiny and New. –  delete Aug 27 '10 at 15:01
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@Shinto: The fact that people can be confused by inclusive and exclusive or makes your statement that "upvote or accept" is exactly as good as "upvote and/or accept" wrong. Language Log had a blog post about this a while back: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=46. Lots of readers wrote in to explain that "or" is always EXCLUSIVE but they were clearly wrong. However, as a writer, if you want to ensure that your readers get your point, you can use and/or. It's not desperate. It's not stupid. And I agree that humans don't say it out loud very often. But it's still valid. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 27 '10 at 19:54
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And if arguing about something in a Q&A discussion makes me an argumentative weirdo... so be it. :p –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 27 '10 at 19:55

I don't think and/or is stupid. The reason is that there are two types of "or"s.

  • Inclusive Or: Please give me a taco and/or a burrito (I'm saying I will accept a taco, a burrito, or both.)

  • Exclusive Or: Please give me either a taco or a burrito. (I will accept a taco or a burrito but not both.)

The problem is using plain-old "or" isn't very explicit about which is meant.

  • Or: Please give me a taco or a burrito. (I will accept a taco or a burrito but maybe? not both...)

Many people need to be explicit that inclusive or is meant and not exclusive or. In my last sentence, which or is meant is ambiguous. Am I expecting to get exactly one thing? Or would both be acceptable?

But yes to answer your question we can try to phrase the inclusive or without use of and/or:

  • Please give me either a taco or a burrito or both (Hmm kind of clunky... I'm going to stick with using and/or.)

Conclusion: and/or has naturally evolved to fill an unfilled niche in English...the explicit inclusive or. Why fight progress?

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If I ever meet you, Doug T., I'll pay you a substantial sum of money to hear you go into a Mexican restaurant and say "Please give me a taco and/or a burrito". –  delete Aug 27 '10 at 16:58

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