Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Possible Duplicate:
Is “not eating or drinking” equal to “not eating or not drinking”?

I am confused in inferring a sentence of pattern "X is not Y or Z".

Is it the same as "X is not Y or X is not Z" ?

OR

Is it the same as "X is not Y or X is Z" ?

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by J D OConal, Ralph Rickenbach, RegDwigнt, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, ssakl Oct 13 '10 at 13:02

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
J D is correct, applying the rule of that post here states that "X is not Y or Z" corresponds to "X is not Y or X is not X". In symbolic logic where n corresponds to not, we have X=n(Y v Z) if and only if X=nY ^ nZ. This is referred to as one of De-Morgan's Laws. –  BBischof Oct 13 '10 at 5:56
1  
But "not X or Y" =/= not (X or Y), right? –  xport Oct 13 '10 at 6:26
1  
You can't use the rules of logic "and", "not, "or" to English. "Didn't you beat your wife?" "No!". The answerer is saying he did not beat his wife. If you used the negation from logic, the answerer would be denying he didn't, meaning he did. –  R. Martinho Fernandes Oct 13 '10 at 9:55
    
Martinho is exactly right, and this is the reason for the confusion of your comment. Notice in my comment I use parenthesis. It is for exactly this reason! However, now I think you get the idea. –  BBischof Oct 13 '10 at 18:51

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Language only partly follows the rules of logic: there are other dimensions, most importantly that of pragmatics.

"X is not Y or Z"

is formally ambiguous, and in certain contexts, or in certain tones of voice, it might mean one of your examples. But the normal pragmatic meaning is "X is neither Y nor Z", or expanding, "X is not Y and X is not Z".

share|improve this answer
    
This is not easy to answer in the abstract, i.e., with no context and using variables (X, Y, Z) instead of actual words or qualities. Are we supposed to be thinking of nouns? classes or individuals? adjectives? Part of the problem is that "is" does not always mean "equals" in English, but often means "is included in". So "X is Y" often means not that X and Y mean the same thing, but that anything which is an X is also a Y (or anything which is X is also Y, or X has the quality Y, or ...) So it's better to look at specific instances, not abstrations. –  Steve Harris Jun 6 '11 at 4:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.