Other than being awkward and difficult to interpret, is the usage of many consecutive instances of 'both' and 'either' in a sentence technically correct? If so, does each group of two need to be preceded by 'either' or 'both'? For example:

Engaging in art and engaging in science are both both both necessary and cathartic and arduous and time-consuming.


Engaging in art and engaging in science are both both both necessary and cathartic and [both] arduous and time consuming.

The latter seems the less ambiguous of the two, since it follows from

Engaging in art and engaging in science are both both necessary and both arduous and time-consuming

which requires 'both' to precede "arduous and time-consuming".

If this is indeed grammatically valid, couldn't one could mash any amount of 'both' and 'either' into a sentence? e.g.

It is either (both (either (both (either A or B) and both (C and D) ) or both (E and F) ) and G) or H.

  • 1
    They’re both utter nonsense as communicative statements, of course—but if you’re parsing them logically, they’re equally unambiguous to me. Your first option (using both as a kind of ‘function’ with its two ‘parameters’ in brackets after it) is then they’re both₁ {both₂ [both₃ (necessary and cathartic) and arduous] and time-consuming}. That is, both₃ is ‘necessary + cathartic’, both₂ is ‘both₃ + arduous’, and both₁ is ‘both₂ + time-consuming’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 21 '15 at 18:29
  • The second option (with the extra ‘both’) is both₁ [of them] are both₂ [both₃ (necessary and cathartic) and both₄ (arduous and time-consuming)], i.e., with two balanced both (x and y) phrases as the ‘parameters’ of both₂, and both₁ being a different both altogether that doesn’t take any ‘parameters’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 21 '15 at 18:33
  • Either either either or both or both or both both and either both can be nested this way, but shouldn’t be, or not. (Yes, that is grammatical and makes logical sense. Good luck reading it, though.) Also, both now no longer looks or sounds anything like a normal word to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 21 '15 at 18:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Boy, your last example takes quite the toll on the brain... The general sentiment, it seems, is that the formulations are nonsensical, which I probably should've guessed. Still, I'm excited by their ability to cause resentment for both both and either or either either or both ;) – concat Feb 22 '15 at 5:33

I assume you realise that the need to ask the question implies that you need to reword from the start and you're asking for academic reasons. While it may be grammatical to treat this sort of sentence as nests of boolean operations, it's almost certainly not sensible. You will rapidly introduce ambiguity especially if you have phrasal entities. You can't generally use brackets for grouping in English prose like you would in code either.

In this case you'd be much better off even simply listing the necessities. Instead here's something I would regard as better though not perfect, which keeps your pairs as pairs Engaging in both art and science is not only necessary and cathartic but also arduous and time consuming.


No. As you say, that's horrendous to read and doesn't make sense. Just list them instead, noting that in other cases it may be necessary to use the Oxford Comma.

Engaging in art and science is necessary, cathartic, arduous and time-consuming.

Note that I've removed the second 'engaging in' as well, so 'are' becomes 'is' since you're referring to the singular instance of engagement.

p.s. After reading this, I'm never going to use the word both again ;-)

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