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What is the correct interpretation of a sentence with two events occurring during some time span joined by "or"? It seems that the scope of "or" doesn't change in either case. For example:

Today I will be either swimming or reading.

Does this mean

At any given instant today I will be either swimming or reading.

or

During the course of today I will engage in exactly one of the set of actions {swim, read}.

?

I realize that the second could be a special case of the first, but I would like to know it the conventional interpretation of the sentence is limited to that case.

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3 Answers 3

This entirely depends on other information.

Today I will be either swimming or reading.

This may mean

When you look for me today you may find me swimming or reading, depending on the time.

or

I intend to swim or read, but not both.

More information needs to be supplied to draw the distinction, or the sentence needs to be recast to be clearer as to your intent.

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Nice clear examples illustrating the available interpretations. Though it's possible (a bit contrived, admittedly) for the second meaning to contain no element of voluntary intention. –  FumbleFingers Jun 16 '11 at 1:24

Intuitively, I would say both intended meanings of the disjunction occur commonly enough to be considered normal. The latter meaning feels more correct, but not so much that you don't have to consider the former meaning.

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If you're saying it - it can mean "You might be swimming, reading or both" during the day - if you don't emphasize the "or". If you say it like "Today I will be either swimming OR reading." and you emphasize the "or" then it means that you will either be swimming or reading BUT not both.

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