If you or your attorney do not call me by 5:00 p.m. today, then I will go ahead and file a complaint.

Do v. Does

'Do" sounds best, but why? Which is correct to use: do or does?


Does. Here's reference: Look at this document from Purdue University's writing lab. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/599/01/

Point 3 clearly states that the verb should take the form of the nearest subject. (Attorney) Also, since both are singular joined by 'or' there will be no plural form of the verb. If this were 'and' it would be plural (do).

  • 1
    I would be careful taking rules of thumb as somehow absolute law, especially when the source manages to spend a lot of confusing text on explaining the difference between don't and doesn't, claiming the latter is used for the singular, except the first and second person. They seem to just love making rules complicated and thus more like texts of law...
    – oerkelens
    Feb 19 '15 at 19:26
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    Thanks for doubting the source. I found another document from Yale resources here. yale.edu/graduateschool/writing/forms/… . (The points 10,11,12 verify the subject verb agreement I cited above. ) P.S. Also, MW defines grammar as ' the set of rules that explain how words are used in a language'. So I guess we have to comply with it at some point, if we want to be correct. Feb 19 '15 at 19:35
  • Comply with a description? You may find there are those that strongly disagree :) As to the new source: either/or emphasizes the singular and ensures that not both subjects perform the action. The usage is open to debate, I doubt there are very clear rules - at least not simple ones :)
    – oerkelens
    Feb 19 '15 at 19:46
  • I welcome rebuttal if you have a source that disproves the rule. Feb 19 '15 at 19:49
  • I admit I find it a bit hard to search on usage of a common word like or, and find useful results, but "you, the next online guy or his friend do not make a trend" is a counterexample of your quoted rule from actual usage. The source is admittedly not linguistic. If I find some time I will see if I can find some more respectable sources of usage that contradicts rules :)
    – oerkelens
    Feb 19 '15 at 19:59

Do. I agree. Why? Perhaps because a call from your attorney would be understood as in effect coming from you, since the attorney represents your interest, so "you" dominates in the disjunction. We could think of "or your attorney" as being a parenthetical addition.

  • Your answer goes against a very specific grammatical rule, as mentioned by other commenters. Do you have a source for your reasons for breaking this well-established rule? The way I understand it, the very reason for this grammatical rule is cases like this. Feb 19 '15 at 19:55
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    You should try to keep facts apart from theories. It's a fact that "do" here sounds better to at least two English speakers, the OP and me. You cite a prescriptive rule to the contrary, but why do you think the rule is right? It's just something someone made up! (In The Syntactic Phenomena of English, McCawley discusses this old prescriptive rule and finds it without foundation.)
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 19 '15 at 20:03
  • Aaaargh. I, a native speaker, disagree completely! :((( Does sounds better to my BE ear ... Feb 20 '15 at 0:30

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