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Let us suppose we are writing a legal document in which it must be stated that benefit are available to:

(1)  men under pension age;

(2)  women under pension age.

Which of the following best describes that statement?

(1.a)  There are three types of bereavement benefit that are available only to men and women under pension age.

(1.b)  There are three types of bereavement benefit that are available only to men or women under pension age.

(2.a)  There are three types of bereavement benefit that are available only both to men and women under pension age.

(2.b)  There are three types of bereavement benefit that are available only either to men or women under pension age.

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closed as too localized by FumbleFingers, Lynn, Mahnax, MετάEd, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Aug 31 '12 at 13:01

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You could try people under pension age unless there are some possibilities other than men or women you wish to exclude. –  Brian Hooper Aug 30 '12 at 12:43
    
@BrianHooper the specific legal context constrains people to recognize that difference. –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Aug 30 '12 at 12:49
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@FumbleFingers "People under pension age" could elicit the question "Which pension age? Men's or women's?" Andrew Leach said. –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Aug 30 '12 at 13:30
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@FumbleFingers - I agree that people would almost always be adequate, but it is conceivable (if not probable) that someone might think the rules applied only to men or women. In that case, stating both, rather than people might clarify. –  bib Aug 30 '12 at 13:30
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In a legal document, another catch to using the word "people" is that it is often used in legal contexts to include fictional persons like corporations. That may or may not apply here. –  Jay Aug 30 '12 at 14:20

4 Answers 4

I think that I would write it this way:

There are three types of bereavement benefit that are available only to men under pension age and women under pension age.

(Notes: I think you want that and no comma. I also think you want to place only after available. I'm not sure why you have usually in your examples, because your initial statement doesn't seem to have that sense.)

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+1 This caters for the possibility that men and women have different pension ages; and it avoids the ambiguity of "available only to men or women under pension age" which could be read as "available only to men, or women under pension age" (note the comma). "People under pension age" could elicit the question "Which pension age? Men's or women's?" –  Andrew Leach Aug 30 '12 at 13:27
    
I corrected the statements, so you can delete your notes. –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Aug 30 '12 at 13:31

I find that separating broad statements from each other, using coordinating rather than subordinating constructions, provides a structure in which it is easier to make clear just what a particular subordinated qualification refers to.

Before I offer an example, it needs to be noted that there are two ambiguities in your versions:

  • It is not clear what usually and only modify. I'm assuming that only modifies under pension age and that usually modifies only (that is, occasionally these benefits may be extended to older men and women)
  • Your comma implies that which are available &c is non-restrictive, and I'm assuming that that is the case; but as JLG suggests, you may intend a restrictive use—that is, that there are more than three types of bereavement benefit, of which three are available only to &c

Under those assumptions, I would write something like this:

There are three types of bereavement leave; all three are available to both men and women, but [usually] only to those under pension age.

In my opinion, breaking the first two statements paratactically like this makes it easier for the writer to control—and the reader to follow.

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If in this document you frequently refer to "both men and women", you might add some definitions up front, e.g. define "participant" to be "any man or woman covered under this plan" or whatever, and then use this term. This is common in legal documents precisely because of this problem. –  Jay Aug 30 '12 at 14:19
    
@Jay Quite true. However, it is not always convenient for employees to read a policy or benefit manual from beginning to end in order to discover their privileges and responsibilities with respect to a single matter; so language which is legally effective and concise may not be the best way of informing the people involved. And lawyers are not always as conscientious as they should be. I once spent three months rewriting, for intelligibility in 2005, a complicated employment contract which had been drafted (barely adequately) in the 1940s and revised (badly) in the 1960s and 1980s. –  StoneyB Aug 30 '12 at 20:24
    
Sure. And I'm not disagreeing with your suggestion above. I guess I'm just trying to say that being readable and being precise are often contradictory goals. One solution is to be wordier, like your suggestion. Another is to establish definitions up front and rely on them. I'm sure there are other solutions. –  Jay Aug 31 '12 at 14:06

I would write it as:

There are three types of bereavement benefit that are available only to men and women under their pension age.

Note the word I added. This would make it more explicit that each man or woman has their own pension age, and thus would not necessarily group everyone under the same pension age.

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Their is plural, so it would have to be ...under their respective pension ages. –  TimLymington Aug 30 '12 at 17:53

Only both is so confusing as to be wrong; beyond that, it's a matter of style, and how far you want legal precision to take precedence over comprehensibility. But for what it's worth, I would phrase it "There are three types of benefit available only to recipients under pension age", assuming that members is not appropriate.

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