I'm a programmer. I'm told I often use 'else' like the if ... else statement in a programming language. For example, this text message I sent yesterday:

Hey, if you haven't had lunch wanna go to the tavern? Else [do you want to see] the latest Hobbit movie?

  • Is this sentence grammatically correct?
  • Are there any examples of where a programming language has influenced or changed the English language?
  • 2
    You're not even using else the way it is used in programming. You're using more like "On a completely separate note..."
    – Jim
    Jan 5, 2015 at 6:26
  • @Jim perhaps a poor example. The logic is there, just implied. Jan 5, 2015 at 6:41
  • 1
    so if your friend responded with, "Yes, I saw it last night.' How would you proceed with the conversation?
    – Jim
    Jan 5, 2015 at 6:44
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet Me, I’m a touch surprised that so many people appear to consider else used as a synonym for otherwise to be ungrammatical.
    – tchrist
    Jan 5, 2015 at 14:41
  • 3
    I'm surprised no one's mentioned FORTRAN's effect on Shakespeare; his frequent use of GO TO is an example. Go to, I’ll no more on ’t. It hath made me mad. (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1). As we all know, GO TO is now considered harmful, and its seed was planted at about the same time as the seed of commercial tobacco, which is also now considered harmful. Jan 5, 2015 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


Some obvious points: 1) the wording you used in your text message is not evidence of a wider phenomenon, and 2) the logic of an if...else programming statement is not manifested in your message.

Regarding your question about the grammaticality of "Else have you seen the latest Hobbit movie?" the answer is that it isn't, because you are using 'else' in a grammatically non-standard way.

I'm unaware of a programming language having influenced English other than through the coining of domain-related terminology; thankfully, nobody I know structures their everyday speech like a computer program.

  • I have seen people who always put a "then", in sentences that start with "if" , even where "then" is not called for by any convention of English grammar. Jan 5, 2015 at 5:55
  • @BrianHitchcock - Maybe so, but the linguistic influence has been in the opposite direction: the logic of "if...then" has been adopted by programmers from an existing English usage, not vice versa. That being the case, it would be rather difficult to demonstrate that the inclusion of an optional 'then' was the direct result of an influence emanating from a programming practice.
    – Erik Kowal
    Jan 5, 2015 at 6:04
  • Edited the question to satisfy 2) Jan 5, 2015 at 6:47
  • Your second sentence is incorrect. Please check the OED, where it has clear citations for this use.
    – tchrist
    Jan 5, 2015 at 14:25
  • That use of "Else" is not non-standard. It is a bit archaic though.
    – slebetman
    Apr 10, 2015 at 8:49

Else = Otherwise

The question of grammaticality is yes. OED sense 4 covers this, and it has four subsenses:

  1. a. In another case, under other circumstances; otherwise, on any other supposition; if not.

    b. preceded by or. Also OR ELSE, with aposiopesis (the alternative to be imagined), as a colloq. form of warning or threat.

    c. idiomatically. = ‘If it is not believed’. Now rare or dial.

    d. qualifying an adj. rhetorical.

And here are a couple of its citations for 4a:

  • 1837 J. H. Newman Par. Serm. (ed. 3) I. v. 115 ― Else how should any one be saved?
  • 1873 Browning Red Cott. Night-C. 115 ― Boughs above, Darken, deform the path, else sun would streak.

So else can indeed start an independent clause, in which case it means otherwise. This is grammatical.

Else = Elsewise

In this sense, else is equivalent to elsewise, which per the OED means:

In some other manner; in other circumstances, otherwise.

One of the citations for using elsewise in this way is from the last novel of Charles Dickens:

1865 Dickens Our Mutual Friend I. 97 ― Elsewise the world got up at eight.

So you could use elsewise instead of just plain else, but that one might get you talked about, since some people don’t realize it’s even a word. Then again, apparently you already get flack for using else in a grammatical way as though it were some sort of violation of grammar when it is not.

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